Charles Leclerc takes second consecutive pole position for the Azerbaijan GP

05-06-2021 13:43 | Updated: 05-06-2021 14:31
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Charles Leclerc takes second consecutive pole position for the Azerbaijan GP

Charles Leclerc has taken his second pole position in a row after a dominant Q3 display in Baku. After not crashing at the end of the final qualifying session, like he did in Monaco, he will start the race at the very front, beating the likes of Lewis Hamilton in P2 and Max Verstappen in P3. Leclerc’s lap time of 1:41.218 was 0.232 seconds quicker than Hamilton and ensured he took the ninth pole position of his F1 career after receiving a tow down the main straight from the aforementioned Hamilton. However, with just two wins to his name from those nine poles, Leclerc will be hoping his fortunes on Sunday will change for the better, and he’ll be able to take his first win since the 2019 Italian Grand Prix.

Whilst Leclerc avoided a late Q3 crash, his teammate Carlos Sainz and Yuki Tsunoda weren't so fortunate as they crashed just seconds apart at the same corner with less than a minute left of the session. That meant nobody was able to better Leclerc's time and the Monegasque was on pole.

Pierre Gasly equalled his best ever qualifying session in P4, whilst Sainz was in P5. Lando Norris ended in fifth, with Verstappen's Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez in P6. 

Tsunoda, Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas rounded off the top 10.

Q1

Just minutes into Q1, Lance Stroll took too much speed into turn 15 and went straight into the wall, bringing out the red flag and ending his qualifying session. It was a corner that caused several problems during all three free practice sessions, and at a track that sees many yellow and red flags waved, it was Stroll who brought one out so soon into qualifying. Charles Leclerc was the only driver to set a flying lap by the time Stroll crashed and went straight into P1 with a 1:42.532. 


Stroll’s crash was a fortunate boost for George Russell, who needed a power unit change to his Williams car and was unable to join the grid on track at the start of qualifying. The delay in restarting Q1 ensured that Russell was able to join with 14 minutes remaining and he finished Q1 in P13. It was a huge effort from the Williams team to get a job that usually takes four hours done in two, and it was rewarded by Russell’s performance.


Leclerc’s Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz moved into P1 before Max Verstappen immediately displaced him with 10 minutes to go. Just moments after that, Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi caused a second red flag to come out after crashing at the exact same corner at Stroll, which ended his session.


Only 10 cars had set a lap time by that point, with both Mercedes and both McLaren cars amongst those who were yet to have a time, and stressing over whether they’d be able to get out of Q1. The cars returned to the garage with the Red Bull’s in P1 and P2, and the Ferrari’s in P3 and P4.


Almost half an hour had passed by the time just five minutes of action in Q1 had commenced, and a choice on fresh or old tyres was the major decision for the strategists, as was track position.


Esteban Ocon didn’t come out of the garage after the second restart as he was in P5 at the time, confident his time was already good enough, which it was.


Lewis Hamilton’s first flying lap was good enough for P4 whilst his teammate Valtteri Bottas went into eighth. Russell, Nikita Mazepin, and Mick Schumacher joined the two retirees in the bottom five with less than four minutes remaining.


With just over a minute left, Russell moved in P11 and ahead of his teammate before Hamilton set the quickest time of the session to move into P1. 


OUT - Latifi, Schumacher, Mazepin, Stroll, Giovinazzi

Q2

After a lively exit from the pits in which Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin was released into the path of Sergio Perez, the Mexican was quickest after every driver had set a flying lap.


After struggling on Friday, Mercedes, and Hamilton in particular, found their speed, with the Brit in P2 after the first set of runs. Verstappen then leapt above Perez and Hamilton into P1 with his second run, with the four fastest cars less than 0.1 seconds within each other with less than five minutes of the session remaining.


With four minutes left, Yuki Tsunoda moved out of the bottom five and 0.029 seconds behind Verstappen in P4, which pushed Vettel into the danger zone.


Before every car went for their final flying lap, George Russell in 15th was the only driver over one second behind the leader, with the top seven all separated by just 0.1 seconds.


Then, with less than two minutes left, Daniel Ricciardo joined Stroll and Giovinazzi in crashing into the wall at turn 15 and caused the red flag to come out for the third time and ended Q2. It’s the third time the Aussie has failed to make Q3 this season, but his crash ensured Tsunoda’s place in Q3 for the very first time.


Bottas squeezed through in P9, with Fernando Alonso finishing in P10 whilst his Alpine teammate Ocon ended the session in 12th. Both AlphaTauri's made it through.


OUT - Vettel, Ocon, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Russell

Q3

Both Mercedes cars opted for two warm-up laps, choosing to warm their tyres as much as possible, and it was Leclerc who went quickest after a tow from Hamilton down the main straight. Verstappen’s first lap was only good enough for P2, splitting the two Ferrari’s before Hamilton set a 1:41.450 to move into second, whilst Bottas was only good enough for P8.


The AlphaTauri’s waited until less than five minutes to go to set their respective times, with Tsunoda going eighth quickest, whilst Gasly was in P4.


Before the final set of fast runs, Leclerc was on provisional pole, with Hamilton, Verstappen and Gasly behind him. 


Crawling to the line with less than a minute remaining, Bottas needed to improve with the Finn down in P10, but a red flag caused through two incidents with Tsunoda and Sainz at turn 15 with less than 10 seconds less ensured Leclerc was on pole. Tusnoda went far too fast into the corner and crashed into the wall, and his crash distracted Sainz who locked up and also smashed into the wall.

With four red flags, this qualifying session equalled the most red flags in a session in Formula One history.

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