Leclerc storms to Azerbaijan GP pole

Charles Leclerc claimed pole for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Charles Leclerc claimed pole for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

After a prolonged Qualifying session, Charles Leclerc has beaten Max Verstappen to pole position for the Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The Ferrari driver was almost 0.2s faster than his Red Bull rival to take his first pole of the season after a tumultuous week for the Scuderia.

Sergio Perez snagged third after showing good pace earlier, while McLaren boasted two cars in the top 10.

Results: Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Qualifying

It was a challenging session, with two early red flags delaying proceedings by half an hour.

After suffering a hydraulic leak in Free Practice 1, which led to a fire for Pierre Gasly, Alpine worked miracles to get the Frenchman on track as Qualifying began.

As it had been earlier in the day, it was a busy start, with every driver venturing out in the opening moments.

Max Verstappen set the early pace at 1:41.887s once the field each had completed a timed lap.

After a series of short yellow flags for errors, Nyck de Vries drew the red when he nosed into the barrier at Turn 3.

The Scuderia AlphaTauri driver had skated long at the 90-degree right-hander before plucking the right-front wheel from his car.

A lock-up on approach to the corner was to blame, the Formula E world champ electing to attempt the corner rather than going straight on into the run-off.

It was bad news for Oscar Piastri, who had gone fastest of anyone before the red flag was shown; the Australian was forced to abandon the lap.

The clean-up of de Vries’ car took more than 10 minutes as the Scuderia AlphaTauri nose was embedded in the tech pro barrier.

A second red flag followed without time for anyone to complete a timed lap.

Gasly found the wall, getting the Turn 3 tyre barrier with the right-rear wheel.

His impact was like de Vries, though he was able to brush the tyre wall with the front axle before the rear took the brunt of the impact.

The Frenchman admitted he locked the front-left on entry, which saw him carry too much apex speed and skate wide on exit.

Just over seven minutes remained once the session resumed, 37 minutes after it had begun.

Carlos Sainz was among those queued to head out as the pit exit opened, the Spaniard without a timed lap in the session.

He banked a time good enough for seventh as Kevin Magnussen dropped down the order.

The Haas driver had been battling an electrical fault throughout the session before being instructed to box.

Qualifying 1 eventually ended with Verstappen fastest from Perez, while de Vries and Gasly were predictable eliminations at the other end.

Joining them were Magnussen, his Haas team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, and Alfa Romeo Sauber’s Zhou Guanyu.

That meant Logan Sargeant escaped the cut, benefitting from a slipstream on his final flying lap to leap clear of the bottom five.

Both Williams escaped the first session, Sargeant and Albon joining the queue to head out once Qualifying 2 began.

Alonso set the first timed lap, a 1:41.400s from the Aston Martin driver.

The Red Bull duo soon went fastest, first Perez with a 1:41.131s and then Verstappen with a 1:41.193s.

Leclerc went third best with a time 0.085s slower than Perez.

McLaren ran an offset strategy for Lando Norris, sending him out with just six minutes remaining.

With his second flying lap, Leclerc shot to the top of the timesheets with just under four minutes remaining.

He completed that lap as Perez emerged from the lane for his final attempt, Verstappen following this team-mate out.

A mistake from Sainz saw the Ferrari driver go long at Turn 3, triggering the yellow flags but able to take to the escape road.

Nobody was unduly impacted as it came at a time when everyone was on out laps.

With his final lap, Verstappen stormed to the fastest time of the session, a 1:40.822s.

Perez aborted his lap to remain third as Norris slotted in fifth and Piastri climbed to eighth.

That pushed George Russell out of the session, the Mercedes driver 11th and out of Qualifying.

Ocon, Albon, Valtteri Bottas, and Sargeant joined him.

Norris ventured out on a set of used tyres as Qualifying 3 began, one of eight drivers to head out as the phase started.

Piastri and Lance Stroll opted to remain in the garage, instead running during the middle of the 12-minute segment when the track was clear – a product of a limited tyre bank.

Verstappen set the early running with a 1:40.445s, a time matched exactly by Leclerc – the Red Bull driver holding provisional pole by logging the time first.

Perez was third, recording a 1:40.563s, with Sainz 0.5s further back in fourth.

Pushing his own air midway through the session, Stroll went seventh fastest but 0.4s down on what he’d managed in Qualifying 2.

Piastri was also on track, the Aussie similarly with nobody to steal a slipstream from to bank a 1:42.097s to sit 10th.

Leclerc found time as he began his final flying lap with just under two minutes remaining.

He was also strong to the second split, though Perez was behind him on track and on a hot lap.

The Mexican lost time through the middle sector while Leclerc crossed the line with a 1:40.203s.

Perez could not better it, nor could Verstappen; the Red Bull duo both going faster on the final lap but not fast enough to claim pole.

Sainz secured fourth, with Hamilton fifth from Alonso, Norris, Yuki Tsunoda, Stroll, and Piastri.

Pole position for Leclerc marked his third in a row in Baku and a chance to claim another with the Sprint Shootout to follow on Saturday.

Friday’s session leaves the Ferrari driver on pole for Sunday’s Grand Prix, with tomorrow’s Shootout to determine the starting order of the F1 Sprint.

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