The street circuit at Baku was already renowned for its tricky corners and unforgiving walls, and today’s qualifying confirmed it yet again. After an incident-filled session that was stopped early, Charles Leclerc finished fastest, topping Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
When the session had only got underway, Lance Stroll already found himself in the wall, iIn the same corner that caught out Leclerc yesterday and Verstappen in FP3. Stroll hit hard with the righthand side of his car, which was left stranded on the track.
10 minutes later, the session was restarted, only to see Giovinazzi crash out another few minutes later. The Italian Alfa Romeo driver had been on good form this weekend, but ended up in the wall on the exit of Turn 15 in an accident that proved very similar to Stroll’s. This time around, several other drivers had at least managed to set a time before the crash.
This second stoppage halted the clock with just 9 minutes left on the clock, making for an intense final part of Q1. After Schumacher and Russell fought their way out, several teams found themselves using more than the expected number of tyres with some drivers out on three different sets of new soft tyres.
At the end of Q1, George Russell just made it through into Q2, helped by the red flags that bought Williams a little bit more time to get his car fixed. He topped Raikkonen and Alonso who both had a “just good enough” laps to make it through. Eliminated were Latifi and both Haas drivers, along with Stroll and Giovinazzi. In front, Hamilton made it to P1, surprising many after some difficulties for Mercedes in the free practice sessions on Friday and this morning.
Q2 had an interesting start with strategies split between “let’s get out immediately” and “no stress”. Vettel and Sainz opted for the first approach. Russell, Raikkonen and the Alphatauri drivers went for the waiting game.
The top guns were out early with Perez ending up fastest despite Verstappen acing the first sector. Lerclec and Sainz soon slotted in between the Red Bull duo. Hamilton followed and slotted into second while Bottas stranded in 7th, half a second off the World Champion.
Verstappen later improved to go fastest, topping his teammate by a mere 0.005s and Hamilton by 0.009s. Yuki Tsunoda moved up into 4th with Gasly 8th when yellow flags were brought out on the brink of the last two minutes of the session.
Things weren’t improving, as the session was stopped with 1 minute and 29s left on the clock after Daniel Ricciardo crashed at Turn 3. The Australian McLaren driver locked up and went straight on into the TecPro barrier, causing extensive damage to the right front of his car.
The likes of Hamilton and Bottas had only just come out to try and set a better lap time on fresh soft tyres. They weren’t able to do so thanks to those red flags, meaning they start the race on used tyres that are much older than they would have liked.
Q3 was busy as of the start, with everybody out immediately, apart from the AlphaTauri drivers who waited two minutes longer to get out.
Of the drivers out on track early, Ferrari seemed to have done the best job with Leclerc in particular ended up on the main straight with a great tow from Lewis Hamilton. Leclerc ended his lap in 1:41.218 and had a 10km/h advantage on the main straight compared to Hamilton and Verstappen who ended second and third fastest with their first flying laps.
Carlos Sainz ended up in 4th, followed by Norris, Perez and Alonso. Valtteri Bottas struggled and stranded 3 tenths down on Alonso. In fact, that’s the slowest time of all in the top 10 after both AlphaTauris moved up into 4th and 8th.
Things didn’t improve for Bottas as Mercedes subsequently sent him out first for the second runs, leaving him to back off dramatically and lucky that Leclerc took first. Leclerc didn’t seem to bother too much, and in the end, it didn’t matter at all, as the session was stopped early as Tsunoda crashed out.
The stranded Japanese surprised Sainz who subsequently braked late and missed the corner as well. The AlphaTauri was however firmly stuck on the racing line, meaning an early stoppage was the only option, immediately sealing Leclerc’s pole position.
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