Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc claimed pole for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after a crash-laden, red-flagged qualifying session in Baku on Saturday.
Mercedes’ world champion Lewis Hamilton will start alongside Leclerc, who is looking for quick redemption after taking pole in Monaco only to retire before the race had even begun when his car broke down on the warm-up lap.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen leads Hamilton by four points in the drivers’ championship after winning in Monaco last time out, and is on the second row of Sunday’s race with the Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly for company.
Q3 was halted with a minute remaining when Gasly’s teammate, Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda, crashed at turn three, with Carlos Sainz in the following Ferrari taking quick avoiding action, locking his wheels and smashing into a safety barrier
A fortnight ago Leclerc was on course to confirm Ferrari’s return to form after their woeful 2020 when he qualified fastest in Monaco but crashed at the end of Q3 in his home race.
He then suffered the heartache of having to retire before taking his rightful place at the head of the grid.
“I didn’t expect us to be this competitive so I’m happy with how it went,” Leclerc said.
“The car felt OK but I feel Mercedes and Red Bull have a bit more from us so it will be difficult tomorrow.”
- ‘Stupid qualifying’ -
After a misfiring weekend and seventh-place finish at Monaco Hamilton was relieved at what he hailed as “a monumental” qualifying result.
“The lap was OK and we definitely weren’t expecting that. We’ve been struggling like you wouldn’t believe”, said the Briton targeting his record-extending 99th career win on Sunday.
“Our race pace is a lot better than our one-lap pace - we don’t understand why - and hopefully we can take the fight to these guys tomorrow, he noted.”
Verstappen, whose car required flash repairs after a crash in third practice, cut a frustrated figure, the Dutch driver saying: “It was just a stupid qualifying to be honest. It is what it is though, we’re still P3.
“Our car is still strong so let’s see what we can do for the race.
“Let’s hope for a clean start, three different cars at the front which is always good to have.”
For Gasly there was the satisfaction of matching his best ever grid position.
“It’s been a fantastic day I must say, We couldn’t have hoped for anything better. We were fighting with Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.”
Sainz, who finished second to Verstappen in Monaco, starts from the third row in Baku alongside Lando Norris in the McLaren, although the British driver could be hit with a grid penalty for failing to obey protocol in the second of four red flag appearances.
“I didn’t know I was under investigation so I have to speak to the team. I was in the middle, didn’t know at what point I could go left or right, I slowed down right away, I don’t think I did anything wrong.”
Q! was suspended for 10 minutes when Lance Stroll crashed his Aston Martin, with the red flags out again when Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo struck a barrier.
Q2 was halted with a minute and a half left to run after Daniel Ricciardo gave his McLaren an unscheduled crumpled makoever.
And the red flags came out for a fourth and final time towards the end of Q3 but by then Leclerc had sealed his pole to put Ferrari in sight of their first win since Singapore 2019.