Photo: FIA

Leclerc on Pole in Baku Thanks to Late Red Flag


Charles Leclerc grabbed a surprise second consecutive pole position, taking top spot in qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix thanks to a late red flag following an incident involving Ferrari team-mate Carlose Sainz and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda.

Lewis Hamilton recovered from a slow start to the weekend to take second place, while pole position favourite and championship leader Max Verstappen qualified third.

With stoppages and incident always likely at the Baku City Circuit, a large queue formed in pit lane ahead of the start of Q1 as driver sought to get in an early banker lap.

And it took just over three minutes for the first disruption to arrive. Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll lost control at Turn 15 and hit the barriers, dislodging his front right wheel and bringing out the red flags.

The session resumed after a 12-minute delay and Verstappen promptly jumped to P1 with a lap of 1:41.760. Red Bull team-mate Sergio Pérez slotted into second place a little under three tenths off the Dutch driver.

The session was then red-flagged for a second time as Turn 15 claimed another victim, this time Antonio Giovinazzi. The Alfa Romeo drive repeated Stroll’s mistake but if anything the impact was heavier.

After a 10-minute delay the session resumed for a second time and this time there were no further interruptions. That allowed Hamilton to climb the leaderboard. The Mercedes driver first jumped to fourth place and aided by a good tow from Tsunoda he then claimed P1 with a lap of 1:41.545 ahead of the two Red Bulls.

At the other end of the order, Nicholas Latifi was eliminated in P16 ahead of the Haas cars of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, while Stroll and Giovinazzi exited via the barriers.

In Q2 the Red Bull drivers were again quick, with Pérez taking an early lead thanks to a lap time of 1:41.630. Verstappen’s first lap wasn’t as good and his 1:41.769 put him third behind Sainz. That became fourth as Leclerc stole into second place. Hamilton, though, was going well and when he crossed the line he moved ahead of Leclerc to take P2. Verstappen, however, reclaimed P1 with a lap of 1:41.625. Just nine thousandths of a second now covered the top three.

And that’s how the order at the top would stay. In the final runs of the segment McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo crashed at Turn 3 and the red flags were shown once again. With just over a minute left in the session race control quickly indicated that the session would not be restarted.

Most affected by the red flag was Sebastian Vettel. The Aston Martin driver was unable to complete his lap and having dropped down the order the German was eliminated in P11, with his earlier lap just under three hundredths of a second off the P10 time of Alpine’s Fernando Alonso.

Also eliminated ahead of the top-10 shootout were Alpine’s Esteban Ocon in P12, Ricciardo in P13, Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen and Williams’ George Russell.

In the opening runs of Q3 neither Red Bull found the space, or crucially, a perfect tow on the long final straight, and after the first runs Leclerc held provisional pole two tenths of a second ahead of Hamilton and with Verstappen a further tenth back.

A final assault remained, but as the bulk of the top 10 wound up to start their final flying laps, their hopes were dashed. Ahead, Tsunoda locked up on entry to Turn 3 and hit the barriers. Close behind the Japanese driver was Sainz. Seeing the incident the Spanish driver hit the brakes but he too locked up and hit the barrier just behind Tsunoda before bouncing along the wall of the escape road.

The red flags were immediately waved and the session ended with Leclerc on pole in similar circumstances to his Monaco qualifying, though this time with his team-mate bringing running to a halt.

Hamilton claimed second place ahead of Verstappen, while Pierre Gasly claimed fourth for AlphaTauri ahead of the unfortunate Sainz and Lando Norris. Pérez was left with seventh place, ahead of Tsunoda, Alonoso and Bottas.

2021 FIA Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:41.218 5 213.507
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:41.450 0.232 6 213.019
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Honda 1:41.563 0.345 5 212.782
4 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri/Honda 1:41.565 0.347 4 212.778
5 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:41.576 0.358 5 212.754
6 Lando Norris McLaren/Mercedes 1:41.747 0.529 5 212.397
7 Sergio Pérez Red Bull/Honda 1:41.917 0.699 5 212.043
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri/Honda 1:42.211 0.993 4 211.433
9 Fernando Alonso Alpine/Renault 1:42.327 1.109 5 211.193
10 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:42.659 1.441 6 210.510
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin/Mercedes 1:42.224 0.599 5 211.406
12 Esteban Ocon Alpine/Renault 1:42.273 0.648 6 211.305
13 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren/Mercedes 1:42.558 0.933 5 210.717
14 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1:42.587 0.962 6 210.658
15 George Russell Williams/Mercedes 1:42.758 1.133 4 210.307
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams/Mercedes 1:43.128 1.583 8 209.553
17 Mick Schumacher Haas/Ferrari 1:44.158 2.613 10 207.480
18 Nikita Mazepin Haas/Ferrari 1:44.238 2.693 9 207.321
     Lance Stroll Aston Martin/Mercedes 2
     Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 4

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