Charles Leclerc pips Lewis Hamilton to Azerbaijan pole in crash-strewn session

Charles Leclerc took pole for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for Ferrari with a perfectly judged lap of the Baku City circuit. Lewis Hamilton was second for Mercedes with Max Verstappen third for Red Bull. AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was in fourth with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in fifth.

Qualifying was marked by a series of incidents as the drivers were caught out on the street circuit and it was ultimately a crash that gave Leclerc his second pole in a row after he went quickest in Monaco. He will try to convert it on Sunday after his bitter disappointment at the last race, when he failed to start from the front of the grid because of a mechanical problem.

Gaining a tow on the 1.37-mile straight, the longest on the F1 calendar, was vital to setting a good time. On the first hot runs in Q3 Bottas went out in front of Hamilton to punch a hole for his teammate to slipstream. They both took an extra lap to warm their tyres and it put Ferrari in a perfect spot with Leclerc tucked in for a tow behind Hamilton, and he set a superb time with his lap of 1 minute 41.218sec. When the two Mercedes went for it they were quick but Hamilton could manage only second, two-tenths down on Leclerc.

The final laps were set to be gripping but, for the second race in succession, an incident ended the session early when Yuki Tsunoda and Sainz both crashed out. Leclerc’s time stood and was enough to secure pole, but Mercedes found the pace they had been lacking all weekend and the margins were tiny: it would have been impossible to choose between the leaders had they been able to complete their final quick laps.

This is Leclerc’s ninth pole and to an extent it came out of nowhere. It will be hugely satisfying for Ferrari given that the team principal, Mattia Binotto, has said their focus is already on 2022 when the new regulations come into play; any positive returns from this year will be seen as a major bonus. They have not won since Sebastian Vettel’s victory in Singapore in 2019 but both Red Bull and Mercedes look to have much better race pace than the Scuderia, and Leclerc faces a real challenge on a circuit where overtaking is achievable.

Ferrari are not in the title race but this is a chance to make a mark in the fight for third in the championship. The title remains a closely fought affair, with Verstappen leading Hamilton by four points.

Lance Stroll crashes during qualifying.
Lance Stroll crashes during qualifying. Photograph: Tolga Bozoğlu/EPA

Lando Norris is under investigation by the stewards after he failed to pit immediately when the red flags were deployed. He was in sixth for McLaren, with Sergio Pérez in seventh for Red Bull. Tsunoda was in eighth and Fernando Alonso in ninth for Alpine, with Bottas in 10th.

Daniel Ricciardo’s session ended in Q2 after he hit the wall, and he finished in 13th place. Sebastian Vettel was in 11th for Aston Martin in front of the Alpine of Esteban Ocon, while Kimi Raikkonen was in 14th for Alfa Romeo and Williams’s George Russell was in 15th.

Lance Stroll crashed his Aston Martin in Q1 as did Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi. Both clipped the wall, causing the session to be red-flagged twice, and they will start from the back row of the grid. Nicholas Latifi was in 16th for Williams with Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin in 17th and 18th for Haas.