Charles Leclerc delivered some impressive pace and benefitted from a tow from Lewis Hamilton to take a sensational pole position for Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix in what was a thrilling qualifying session that saw five crashes and four red flags.
It comes just a couple of weeks after he took pole in his home race in Monaco, only to be forced to retire before the race had even started with a mechanical issue caused by his crash in qualifying – with reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton bouncing back from a poor Friday to join the Ferrari on the front row in Baku.
Hamilton made the decision to switch to a low downforce rear wing ahead of qualifying, having struggled to find any performance on a single lap in the preceding practice sessions, and it paid off as he starts second for the third consecutive race in Baku.
Max Verstappen was furious with third, despite it being his best start in Baku, the Dutchman frustrated by the number of stoppages for crashes as it meant he was unable to maximise the pace of his Red Bull, which for much of the weekend has looked like the class of the field.
The Italian – fresh from scoring his first point of the season last time out in Monaco – was on a lap in Q1 when he overcooked it and hit the barriers at Turn 15, immediately ending his day and bringing out the red flags.
Unbelievably, the Alfa Romeo driver’s crash was an almost carbon copy of Lance Stroll’s shunt at the same spot on the track, which happened just minutes earlier and also stopped the session. The track had, in fact, only been clear a matter of minutes after Stroll’s Aston Martin was cleared, before Giovinazzi’s accident.
Pierre Gasly made it four constructors in the top four, the AlphaTauri driver choosing to do just one run in the final segment of qualifying and utilising a largely clear track – and a small tow from team mate Yuki Tsunoda to equal his best ever grid position.
There was drama in the closing stages as Tsunoda crashed at Turn 3, forcing everyone to abort their second runs and bringing an early end to session, with the Japanese driver ending up a career-best eighth on the grid.
Carlos Sainz was following Tsunoda on the road and locked up heavily, losing the car and sliding down the escape road, damaging his front wing as well as the right rear of his Ferrari, which could mean there’s a chance his gearbox is damaged.
McLaren’s Lando Norris went sixth, having seen his team mate Daniel Ricciardo crash out in Q2, with Sergio Perez – who had points during qualifying looked like he had the pace to take pole – a disappointing seventh.
Fernando Alonso outqualified his Alpine team mate Esteban Ocon for the first time this season with eighth, with Bottas – who opted to keep the higher downforce configuration of rear wing – bottom of the top 10 pile.
The session saw four red flags in total – following crashes for Lance Stroll, Antonio Giovinazzi, Ricciardo and Tsunoda – which ties the 2016 Hungarian Grand Prix for the most red flags in a session.