By Robert Haile
It was a qualifying like no other in Baku, Azerbaijan as Charles Leclerc put Ferrari back in front on the street circuit today, June 5.
The Monégasque driver has his second pole position of the season after topping the times around his home Grand Prix in Monaco.
Charles Leclerc said: “I am very happy. I tried to take things step by step and only push in Q3 today. It seems to have worked out pretty well. I had good references – I knew where I could gain and where I could push more, and that’s what I did.
“After the first lap, I was reasonably happy but I did lose quite a bit at turns 4-5-6. On the second timed lap I was quite a lot stronger, but then the session was stopped by the red flag. But it’s pole anyway, so I am very happy with that.
“Our race pace is not as strong as that of our competitors ahead of us in the championship, so I believe it will be very difficult to keep them behind in the race. The straights are very long here, and it is easy to overtake. We will give everything, and hopefully we can have another positive surprise tomorrow.”
Behind Leclerc it was battle resumed as Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, finished second ahead of Red Bull rival and championship leader Max Verstappen.
Seven time world champion Hamilton said: “Given the difficult circumstances, I’m just overwhelmed and really happy to get that lap in. We definitely weren’t expecting that, and this is such a monumental result for us because we’ve been struggling like you couldn’t believe all weekend. We kept our composure and continued to have difficult conversations in the background, challenging one another and just never taking “no” for an answer.
“Today was the biggest jump we’ve been able to make between FP3 and Qualifying. We discovered something at the end of FP3 and we continued to push in that direction. It’s been so difficult and there was so much work back at the factory overnight and today – I hope everyone’s happy but we’ve still got a job to do tomorrow.
“Our race pace is a lot better than our single lap pace, we’re miles off on a single lap and a lot closer in race pace. We don’t understand why, but I’d like to think we can take the fight to the other teams tomorrow.”
While Verstappen was not happy with his position saying: “Of course I’m not that happy as I was very confident we could fight for pole here as we have felt good throughout the weekend but qualifying was pretty scrappy with all the red flags and the one at the end of Q3 stopped us all improving.
“It is what it is and it’s unfortunate but it’s a fast street circuit and these things can happen. Of course I would have liked to start further ahead but P3 isn’t so bad. We know we have a good car so it’s still all to play for and we can fight from there. As you can see from qualifying a lot of things can happen around this circuit so let’s hope we can have a clean start and then put the pressure on.
“With three different teams at the front it should also be a pretty interesting race strategy wise as well and it is also about keeping your tyres alive. We are still up there so let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”
This was not the only surprise as five cars crashed around the circuit leaving the mechanics with plenty of work to do but plenty of company in the paddock garages as well.
Turn fifteen claimed it’s first victim of the day as Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, crashed early into the qualifying session followed by Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo, as their session finished early.
Esteban Ocon, Alpine, survived a scare coming out of turn four hitting the wall in the second qualifying session.
In the final minutes for second qualifying session Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, crashed going through turn three finishing the session with one minute twenty nine seconds left.
In the final seconds of the final session Yuki Tsunoda went into the wall at turn three with Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz sliding behind Tsunoda and crashing off the track.
Lando Norris was put under investigation and was found to have continued on track while under a red flag for Giovinazzi’s crash this means that Norris drops from sixth to ninth.
Pole Position – Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
Q3 – Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Max Verstappen (Red Bull), Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri), Carlos Sainz (Ferrari), Lando Norris (McLaren), Sergio Perez (Red Bull), Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri), Fernando Alonso (Alpine), Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
Q2 – Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin), Esteban Ocon (Alpine), Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren), Kimi Riäk (Alfa Romeo), George Russell (Williams)
Q1 – Nicholas Latifi (Williams), Mick Schumacher (Haas), Nikita Mazepin (Haas), Lance Stroll (Aston Martin), Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)