But a late run in the final qualifying session in Azerbaijan saw the Monegasque driver pip Verstappen and Sergio Perez to become the first non-Red Bull polesitter in 2023.
It came as a surprise to Leclerc, who admitted he thought he would be battling Mercedes and Aston Martin for best of the rest behind the Red Bull pair.
“Really good especially considering the beginning of the season I’ve had,” said Leclerc. “We haven’t had the greatest of beginnings, but it’s great to be back on pole.
“Honestly I did not expect it. We came in thinking it would be a great result being in front of Aston Martin and Mercedes and find ourselves on pole, we need to see for tomorrow and the race as I think we are more on the back foot there but a really good surprise and happy with my lap.”
This is the third time in succession that Leclerc has sealed pole in Baku, and he elucidated that he relishes the challenge of pushing in between the tight and unforgiving walls of a street track.
“I don’t know, it works well for me here,” he added. “Also years where it worked less well in qualifying also.
“I love street tracks in general, not only here but Singapore Monaco here are probably my three favourite of the season. I enjoy the challenge of pushing the limit and you can’t go over or you pay the price, I enjoy but not like I can pinpoint anything for being so quick in street tracks.”
Leclerc has not converted either of his pole positions so far in Baku; he finished fourth in 2021, before a reliability failure sent him out of the race last June.
He will start first in Sunday’s race, while a new qualifying format on Saturday morning will determine the grid for the Sprint.