Charles Leclerc claims pole at dramatic qualifying session at the Azerbaijan GP
Plenty of red flags threw a spanner in the works for a number of drivers, while allowing Ferrari to claim their second pole in two races
The Azerbaijan GP Qualifying round started at 5:30 pm IST earlier today. The time sheet was topped by Charles Leclerc (Scuderia Ferrari), Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes AMG F1) at P2 followed by Max Verstappen (RedBull Racing) at P3. There were a lot of red flags in the session. There were two red flags at Q1, one red flag at Q2 and another red flag at Q3 which prematurely ended the session. But this is exactly the type of carnage we expected heading into this street circuit. So let’s dive a little deeper into the session and see how it unfolded.
Qualifying Round 1
Q1 started and got red flagged immediately in the first 3 minutes with Lance Stroll of Aston Martin Cognizant F1 crashing at Turn 15. The slight bump before the turn caught his car out of balance and the right front tyre locked up under the load transfer. He could not stop the car in time and that resulted in the first red flag of the session. Soon after, Antonio Giovinazzi of Alfa Romeo Racing got caught in the same turn and the second red flag of the race came out. The wind soon picked up and driving on the track became more of a challenge.
Nicholas Latifi (Williams Racing), Mick Schumacher (Haas F1), Nikita Mazepin (Haas F1), Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo Racing) and Lance Stroll (Aston Martin Cognizant F1) were eliminated at the end of Q1.
Qualifying Round 2
Q2 started with an unsafe release of Sebastian Vettel from the pits. His Aston Martin nearly took out one of the engineers in the pits. The reason for such a dangerous release was that track position is key in a track like Baku. Meanwhile both the Mercedes-AMG F1 cars were seen taking two warm-up laps to put in a competitive time. This was due to the inability of the Mercedes cars to get the tyre temperature in the working optimum conditions. Moreover since they would be starting the race on the same tyres, the tyre degradation lost in this session would be key for the race. Max Verstappen from Red Bull Racing topped the timesheets at 1:41:659. But, he also took four laps to set the time. The round came to a premature end as Daniel Ricciardo of McLaren Racing crashed at Turn 3 after overshooting his brake marker and ended up carrying too much speed into the turn. Esteban Ocon of Alpine F1 and Sebastian Vettel couldn’t improve their final time as result of this and ended up being eliminated. Vettel missed Q3 by +0.118 of a second.
Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin Cognizant F1), Esteban Ocon (Alpine F1), Daniel Ricciardo ( McLaren Racing),Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo Racing) and George Russell (Williams Racing) were at the end of Q2
Qualifying Round 3
Both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas from Mercedes were using two warm-up laps yet again to set the time for the round. Both the Ferraris were showing decent pace on the track. Charles Leclerc found himself in an advantageous position when he got a tow from Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes on the final straight sector of the track. The tow was so powerful that it handed Leclerc the provisional pole at 1:41:218. The drivers were trying for the final attempt at improving their times when the entire session was cut short with yet another red flag. This time it was rookie driver Yuki Tsunoda of Scuderia AlphaTauri who crashed. Seeing the crash, Carlos Sainz of Scuderia Ferrari lost concentration and control of the car, further adding to the crash site. This handed Charles Leclerc the second pole position of the 2021 season and the 9th poll position of his career.
The result of Q3 are as follows:
Charles Leclerc (Scuderia Ferrari)
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes AMG F1)
Max Verstappen (RedBull Racing)
Pierre Gasly (Scuderia AlphaTauri)
Carlos Sainz (Scuderia Ferrari)
Lando Norris ( McLaren F1)
Sergio Perez (RedBull Racing)
Yuki Tsunoda (Scuderia AlphaTauri)
Fernando Alonso (Alpine F1)
Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes AMG F1)
This is Ferrari’s and Leclerc’s second pole position of the season. This is a chance for him and the team to redeem themselves from the horror of the Monaco Grand Prix. He is starting from the dream position with tyres 2 laps younger than the ones chasing him. Meanwhile, Hamilton and Verstappen are starting from P2 and P3 respectively. The battle between them is as close as ever. Moreover, with Perez starting from P7 and Bottas starting from P10, it will be interesting to see how the Constructors Championship shapes up after this round. You can see the race in Star Sports Select HD2 and in Hotstar from 6:30 pm IST.