Leclerc crashes out, still claims Sprint pole
By Mat Coch
Saturday 29th April, 2023 - 7:32pm
Charles Leclerc has taken pole position for the F1 Sprint in Azerbaijan despite crashing out of the Sprint Shootout qualifying session.
The Ferrari driver ended the session in the wall at Turn 5, but an earlier effort was good enough to secure his second pole position of the weekend.
He held on ahead of Sergio Perez with a scrappy lap from Max Verstappen leaving the Dutchman third.
Results: Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Sprint Shootout
The field was effectively split in half, with 10 cars heading out as the Sprint Shootout began and the others remaining in the garage for the opening two minutes of the 12-minute segment.
Kevin Magnussen set the early running with a 1:44.842s before double-waved yellow flags were shown.
That briefly interrupted proceedings when Oscar Piastri stopped at Turn 3, though the McLaren driver was able to get going once again.
He’d gone deep under braking and taken to the escape road, where he could stop without incident.
Lewis Hamilton beat Magnussen’s time with just over seven minutes remaining with a 1:44.739s.
All drivers were on the yellow-walled medium tyres, mandated by the regulations.
Sergio Perez then went fastest before Verstappen flashed across almost a second faster again, the benchmark lowered to 1:43.563s.
It stood for only a moment as Leclerc managed a 1:43.372s.
Nyck de Vries was next to skate long at Turn 3, mirroring what Piastri did in heading up the escape road – rather than into the tyre wall as he did on Friday.
With limited time and the rules mandating a single set of rubber, the circuit remained busy, with drivers alternating between push and cool-down laps.
Times improved, Leclerc, managing a 1:42.820s with his second hot lap, 0.468s clear of what Verstappen had managed on his second flyer.
Inside the final minute, Logan Sargeant found the wall at Turn 15.
The impact damaged the right rear of the Williams and drew a red flag.
Sargeant ran wide, perhaps distracted by two slower-moving Ferraris clouting the barrier on the outside.
With insufficient time to resume proceedings, it eliminated de Vries, Pierre Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda, Valtteri Bottas, and Zhou Guanyu.
The start of Shootout 2 was delayed due to the clean-up of Sargeant’s car, prompting a queue at pit exit.
Aston Martin used the delay to examine a DRS issue on Fernando Alonso’s car.
Lance Stroll had suffered issues during Qualifying on Friday but had been remedied overnight, or so the team thought.
All 14 remaining cars headed out soon after the session began, the two Ferraris waiting just over a minute before joining the fray.
The Red Bull pair were quick out of the gate, Perez managing a 1:42.925s, which Verstappen soon improved upon with a 1:42.417s.
Leclerc ran slightly off sequence and banked a 1:42.812s to slot in second with his first flying lap.
With just a single lap on the board, Verstappen and Perez pitted, satisfied that their efforts would ensure their passage into the final part of the session.
Ferrari left its drivers out, Sainz stopping at Turn 15 with a minute remaining as Leclerc managed a 1:42.500s.
Sainz had locked up on the approach to the downhill left-hander, taking to the escape road rather than attempting to make the corner.
He recovered but did not attempt another timed lap as he sat fifth.
That became sixth as Hamilton improved, but the Spaniard was safe.
As the chequered flag waved, eliminated were Piastri, Nico Hulkenberg, Esteban Ocon, Magnussen, and Sargeant, who took no part in the session.
The result locked Norris into 10th, the McLaren driver having no new soft tyres available.
With a new set of soft tyres mandated within the regulations for the final phase of the session, Norris was unable to leave the garage.
Red Bull sent its drivers to the end of the lane well ahead of the eight-minute final segment commencing.
All seven other runners eligible to head out did so in their wake.
Perez was the first to record a time, a 1:41,876s, which saw him top the totem even after Verstappen completed his lap.
That lasted until Leclerc finished his lap; losing time in the first split but making it back in the latter two-thirds of the lap to log a 1:41.697s.
Verstappen’s lap had been scrappy, sliding through Turn 5 and again at Turn 6, losing time to sit 0.443s away from the outright pace.
A cool-down lap followed, the field banking up behind Perez, who was at the head of the queue.
He accelerated out of Turn 15 with a little over 90 seconds left in the session and started his lap with 68 seconds to run,.
Through the first third of the lap, Perez was nearly 0.2s down, while Hamilton and Alex Albon were able to set personal bests.
Verstappen was slower than his team-mate through the first split before a personal best middle sector.
At Turn 5, Leclerc nosed into the barrier, however, he would remain on pole for the F1 Sprint as Perez could not beat the Ferrari’s earlier effort.
The Mexican slotted into second with Verstappen third, George Russell fourth from Sainz, who was impacted by Leclerc’s crash as he ran behind his team-mate on track.
Completing the top 10 were Hamilton, Albon, Alonso, Stroll, and Norris.
The F1 Sprint, a 100km race, begins at 17:30 local time (23:30 AEST).
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