Leclerc pips Hamilton in crashed-fest Baku

Charles Leclerc has taken his ninth career pole for Ferrari in a dramatic end to qualifying at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.

The Ferrari driver earnt pole with his first flying lap thanks to an incidental slipstream from Lewis Hamilton down the Baku City Circuit’s 2.2-kilometre start-finish straight, but Hamilton was denied a chance to strike back when the session was abandoned for a crash at turn three.

Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda took too much speed through turn three and hit the outside barrier, and Carlos Sainz behind crashed in sympathy trying to avoid the accident.

With only a second left on the clock, the pole shootout was abandoned, and Leclerc was handed his second straight pole.

“It was quite a shit lap!” he said. “I thought there were two or three corners where I did mistakes, but then of course I had a big tow from Lewis in the last sector, which helped me a little bit.

“But anyway, I think we would’ve been thereabouts for pole.”

Arguably more surprising that another Ferrari pole was to see Hamilton just 0.232 seconds behind after a pessimistic Friday in which Mercedes finished outside the top 10.

The reigning world champion paid tribute to the work of the team to address the car’s problems.

“We definitely weren’t expecting that,” he said. “This is such a monumental result for us because we’ve been struggling like you wouldn’t believe all weekend.

“It’s been so difficult, but really the work overnight and particularly between the session is really amazing of the team.

“To be up there so close to these guys is a great result.”

Completing the unexpected top three was a bitterly disappointed Max Verstappen, who started the session as pole favourite but ended the disrupted session 0.345 seconds off the pace.

“Just a stupid qualifying to be honest,” he said. “It is what it is. I’m still P3. We have a good car.

“It’s just unfortunate. But it’s a street circuit, these things can happen.

“We’re still up there. Of course I would’ve liked to start a bit further ahead, but it’s still all to play for.”

Qualifying in Baku proved chaotic, with four red flags stretching the session well beyond its 60-minute window.

Lance Stroll and Antonio Giovinazzi caused two individual suspensions in Q1 and Daniel Ricciardo crashed in Q2 before the Tsunoda-Sainz incident called off the battle for pole.

Pierre Gasly set his best lap shortly before his teammate’s crash to claim fourth for AlphaTauri ahead of Sainz, who will have to hope his car sustained no serious mechanical damage to take his place on the grid.

Lando Norris qualified sixth, but the McLaren driver was called to the stewards post-session for appearing not to pit at his first opportunity during red flags in Q1.

Sergio Perez will start seventh in the sister Red Bull Racing car 0.7 seconds off pole.

Tsunoda will start eighth assuming his car is only superficially damaged, with Fernando Alonso in ninth and Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes 1.4 seconds off the pace in 10th.

Sebastian Vettel was set to put Aston Martin into the top 10 before Q2 was red flagged when Daniel Ricciardo crashed his McLaren at turn three. The Australian had carried too much speed into the corner and crunched his front-right wheel into the barriers.

It meant Vettel qualified 11th and an agonising 0.029s shy of progression. Esteban Ocon and Ricciardo followed in 12th and 13th.

Kimi Raikkonen qualified 14th and George Russell will start 15th, after an emergency engine change before qualifying to fix a leak.

Williams driver Nicholas Latifi will start 16th ahead of Haas rookies Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin.

Lance Stroll and Antonio Giovinazzi both crashed out of qualifying at the tricky turn 15, a downhill left-hander, causing a pair of lengthy red flags in Q1.