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F1 2021 Azerbaijan GP Qualifying Report: Leclerc Achieves Redemption by Claiming Pole in Baku

Max Verstappen headed into the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend as the championship leader for the first time in his career. The young Dutchman mastered the streets of Monte Carlo two weeks ago while reigning champion Sir Lewis Hamilton was unable to improve on his seventh-placed starting position.

Red Bull appeared to the be the team to beat, and bossed practice yesterday. However, Verstappen’s qualifying run was scuppered in FP3. Both Ferrari and AlphaTauri were looking fast, so the battle for pole position was wide open.

Here are all the highlights from qualifying!

Q1

The chance of a yellow or red flag in Baku, even in qualifying, is high, so most cars queued at the end of the pit-lane waiting for the green light to start qualifying.

This proved to be the case too, as Lance Stroll brought out the reds. The Canadian went too fast into Turn 15, locked-up and went into the barriers. His Aston Martin’s suspension was damaged, and he’ll line-up P20 tomorrow. Charles Leclerc was the only man who managed to set a time before the session was paused.

Stroll has a lot of work to do tomorrow. Image: F1

When the session resumed, Verstappen and Red Bull asserted themselves to top the timing table. We got another red flag soon after though, Antonio Giovinazzi slamming into the wall at Turn 15, the same spot as Stroll ten minutes earlier. It was the same story as before, as Gio outbraked himself and couldn’t back out of the corner.

Giovinazzi became yet another victim of Turn 15. Image: F1

Nine minutes remained and only nine drivers had set a time so far, with neither Mercedes nor McLaren amongst those without a lap on the board.

Those drivers would get through, though, and it was the three you’d expect to be out that were eliminated. Both Haas drivers of Nikita Mazepin (P18) & Mick Schumacher (P17) and the Williams of Nicholas Latifi would take no further part in qualifying.

Hamilton was top in the end, but Red Bull still looked fastest. Lando Norris was also under investigation for allegedly not pitting when a red flag came out. This would be investigated after the conclusion of qualifying.

Q2

After the first runs in second qualifying, it was Perez who topped the timings. A 1:41.630 was a very impressive opening gambit. Mercedes bailed on their first efforts, as Ferrari were looking good, P2 and 3 for the red cars. The Black Arrows would soon set better laps though, but Valtteri Bottas was looking vulnerable in seventh.

Sergio Perez was setting the timing boards alive in Q2

Verstappen would beat Perez’s time, which made the top three drivers separated by less than a hundredths of a second. Yuki Tsunoda would also stretch Honda’s muscles, the Japanese driver going P4 with his second effort in Q2.

The drivers were prepping for their final efforts, but they never got a chance to set them. Daniel Ricciardo continued his troubled start to life at McLaren by slamming into the walls at Turn 3. The Honeybadger out-braked himself and had no chance of making it back to the pits.

The red flags were out, and Danny Ric will line-up P13, unlucky for him. Sebastian Vettel was a very frustrated P11, the German missing out by three hundredths of a second. Esteban Ocon (P12), Kimi Raikkonen (P14) and George Russell (P15) were the others to drop out.

Q3

Mercedes were the first team out of the blocks, but it was Leclerc’s Ferrari that set the first flying lap in final qualifying. Leclerc held provisional pole, as the Red Bulls couldn’t beat the Monegasque’s time. Hamilton went P2 but was over two tenths of a second back!

Leclerc was on provisional pole again, but could he hold it?

The drivers were warming up for their final efforts, but a record-equalling fourth red flag ended the session early. Tsunoda flying into the barriers, then Carlos Sainz spinning into Turn 3, ending with the Ferrari down the escape road. The reds were brought out and Leclerc claimed a second pole position in a row.

Despite Leclerc claiming that it was a “s*** lap”, his effort was admirable and he’s got a real chance of taking Ferrari’s first win in almost two years tomorrow. Hamilton’s effort was good enough for P2, and Verstappen was a furious P3, also labelling the session as a four letter word beginning with “s”.

Gasly claimed AlphaTauri’s best qualifying of the year, a very impressive P4 for the Frenchman. Sainz was a respectable P5 in his Ferrari, with Norris P6 but under investigation. Perez again struggled in qualifying, P7 for the Mexican.

Tsunoda achieved his best F1 qualifying in eighth and Fernando Alonso was an impressive P9. Bottas has it all to do tomorrow, he lines up tenth.

Full Classification

Pos.No.DriverConstructorGap
116Charles LeclercFerrari1:41.218
244Lewis HamiltonMercedes+0.232
333Max VerstappenRed Bull Racing+0.345
410Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri+0.347
555Carlos SainzFerrari+0.358
64Lando NorrisMcLaren+0.529
711Sergio PerezRed Bull Racing+0.699
822Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri+0.993
914Fernando AlonsoAlpine+1.109
1077Valtteri BottasMercedes+1.441
115Sebastian VettelAston Martin1:42.224 (Q2)
1231Esteban OconAlpine+0.049
133Daniel RicciardoMcLaren+0.334
147Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo+0.363
1563George RussellWilliams+0.534
166Nicholas LatifiWilliams1:43.128 (Q1)
1747Mick SchumacherHaas+1.030
189Nikita MazepinHaas+1.110
1999Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoNo time
2018Lance StrollAston MartinNo time

WHAT F1 IS LIKE TO WATCH AS A MOTORSPORT BEGINNER

When you Google ‘How to become an F1 fan?’ you are presented with a plethora of people asking the same question.

When you first start getting into Formula 1, you are inevitably overwhelmed by all the different information you have to learn. Which manufacturers are the best? When are the races? And most of all: What are the rules? (Which I have quickly learnt that the answer to this question differs widely depending on what F1 fan you are speaking to).

When you are completely new to the world of F1, it can be overwhelming when seeing all the self-proclaimed experts on the subject giving their opinions on the races and you are there not knowing what on earth they are talking about.  

To remedy this, Reddit has a super handy “new to F1” page that gives you a great introduction to all the fundamentals of the sport. I have found it to be the perfect place to start learning about the inner workings of F1 and getting a feel of the different opinions going around inside the F1 fan base.

Why I became an F1 fan

The first race I watched fully was this season’s Austrian GP, 9 cars out of 20 that started didn’t finish the race for a variety of reasons. Contact with other drivers, wheels falling off and engine failures, it was 71 laps of drama and one of the most intense sports viewing experiences of my life.

I have never been a fan of watching sport, so when I was persuaded to watch F1 and try to become a fan of it I was inevitably reluctant to do so. But after watching several races I found myself getting hooked and wanting to see more.

This is a sport not like any other I had tried to get into. It has drama, it has intrigue, it has incredible technical innovation and all at over 200 mph!

Plus, the drama carries on outside of the races. Whether it be Lewis Hamilton’s often controversial opinions, Kimi Raikkonen’s hilarious radio outbursts or Daniel Riccardo’s hijinks off the grid. There is a lot of drama and intrigue to keep anyone hooked on the sport and the culture surrounding it.

Steep learning curve

Anyone vaguely familiar with F1 will already be aware that turning from a newcomer to an F1 expert requires a lot of time and effort and involves a steep learning curve. All this talk about DRS, ERS, Tyres, safety cars and time penalties is a lot to take in when you are a newcomer.

Which can seem scary and off-putting at first, but at the same time, it is same for a lot of sports (especially Football) and you don’t have to understand everything to enjoy it. At some point everybody has watched their first race, everybody has had to start at zero, so if there is something that you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask the fandom! That’s how everybody learns.

Even if you don’t know the ins and outs of all the technical regulations, you can still enjoy the race, and everybody can understand that the first driver to complete the race distance wins the grand prix. It’s not all rocket science!

Trying to get into other Motorsports

After F1 has piqued my interest I decided to have a look at some other top motorsports series as well including Formula E, IndyCar and Nascar.

All of them I found to be entertaining on some level, however, they don’t hold a candle to F1.

On the surface, IndyCar and Nascar are as fast as F1 but they don’t have the same depth when it comes to the technical prowess of the cars, nor are the circuits as technical or as interesting to watch.

From what I have seen, the only series that comes close to F1 are its official support series F2 and F3. They’re helped as well by the cars all being equal performance, something that makes it remarkably different from F1 and adds a further element of excitement.

By Alana Robson – @alanabanana1812