Charles Leclerc will start this afternoon’s Formula 1 Sprint from pole position after topping the timesheets in the inaugural Sprint Shootout.
His journey to pole wasn’t without incident as the Monegasque driver had a crash on his final push lap. However, his first run in SQ3, a 1:41.697 was enough to keep the Red Bulls of Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen at bay.
The first session, SQ1, mandated the use of fresh Medium tyres with only 12 minutes for drivers to set their fastest times. Some drivers opted to push from their first lap, while others opted for an extra build lap to bring the medium tyres to temperature.
Turn 3 continued to catch drivers out. Both Nyck de Vries and Oscar Piastri went straight on and down the escape road, costing both drivers valuable time in the shortened session.
As fuel loads dropped, lap times did too. However, drivers were unable to capitalise as with seconds remaining in the session, Logan Sargeant crashed hard at Turn 15. The session was red flagged and would not be restarted.
Although he had made it through to SQ2, Sargeant was unable to take part with the rear end of his Williams torn apart.
Knocked out of SQ1 were: Zhou, Bottas, Tsunoda, Gasly, de Vries. Charles Leclerc topped the session 0.468s ahead of Max Verstappen.
With the debris cleared, SQ2 could get underway. The expectation for most drivers was for a three push laps. Ferrari opted to send both drivers out in clear air, waiting an extra minute before joining the action. A decision that could be costly in a 10-minute session.
Once more, every driver was on a fresh set of medium tyres and a higher fuel load than we are used to in qualifying.
Hulkenberg locked up at Turn 7, flat-spotting his fresh medium tyres on his first attempt.
Aston Martin have been struggling with intermittent DRS issues all weekend, but Lance Stroll was saved from elimination by a timely tow from teammate Fernando Alonso. Despite the issues, both Aston Martins progressed into SQ3.
It was advantage Verstappen at the end of SQ2, the Dutchman 0.083s ahead of Leclerc. Eliminated were Piastri, Hulkenberg, Ocon, Magnussen and Sargeant.
With only eight minutes to settle the top 10 starting positions, teams were eager to get out on track as early as possible. Red Bull had sent their cars to the end of the pitlane four minutes before the start of the session.
Fresh Soft tyres are mandated for SQ3. After yesterday’s qualifying session, Lando Norris was left with no new sets of softs meaning he was sidelined for the session.
Charles Leclerc took provisional pole by 0.179s ahead of Perez. Verstappen had a couple of slides in the middle sector that cost him time and a potential front row start.
Drivers crawled around the Baku City Circuit before a final push lap. The burning question was whether the C5 tyre would hold for one final push in the Azerbaijani heat.
Few were able to improve massively with the tyres clearly now past their best. Still pushing to try and protect his provisional pole, Leclerc crashed at Turn 5. Replays showed the rear had stepped out on him on entry but thankfully for Leclerc and Ferrari, the only real damage was to the front wing.
Despite the crash, it was another pole for Charles Leclerc in Azerbaijan. That makes it four poles from his past four qualifying sessions in Baku. He will share the front row alongside Sergio Perez, 0.147s behind.
Verstappen would have to settle for the second row and third, while Russell managed fourth – a big improvement on his performance yesterday.
Carlos Sainz was caught out by Leclerc’s incident and wasn’t able to improve. He starts fifth. Hamilton will start this afternoons Sprint from 6th ahead of Alex Albon, Alonso and Stroll. Norris will start 10th.