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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
|3||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing||+0.345|
|7||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing||+0.699|
|11||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||1:42.224 (Q2)|
|14||7||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||+0.363|
|16||6||Nicholas Latifi||Williams||1:43.128 (Q1)|
|19||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||No time|
|20||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||No time|