Charles Leclerc claimed Ferrari’s first pole position of the 2023 Formula 1 season after defeating Max Verstappen in qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
After a challenging start to 2023, Ferrari came into the Baku F1 weekend confident of having made a set-up breakthrough last time out in Australia that could translate nicely on what is another relatively smooth and low-energy circuit for the tyres.
Leclerc was quickest of all in Q1, but trailed Verstappen by two tenths of a second in Q2. After the first runs in Q3, Verstappen was on provisional pole with a 1m40.445s lap that Leclerc matched to the nearest thousandth of a second.
Leclerc dug deep for his final run and improved to 1m40.203s to steal pole position away from Red Bull. Verstappen also improved but was not happy with his tyre preparation on his out-lap and fell 0.188s short of Leclerc’s best.
Sergio Perez was also in pole contention in the second Red Bull, but ended up third, a tenth further back.
The top three enjoyed a significant advantage over the rest. Carlos Sainz was fourth in the second Ferrari, but more than eight tenths slower than Leclerc and only 0.161s clear of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.
Sainz suffered an eventful session, including a spin at Turn 1 and outbraking himself into Turn 3, and only had one set of new tyres to use in Q3.
Fernando Alonso rounded out the top six in the best of the Aston Martins, less than a tenth behind Hamilton, while both of the upgraded McLarens made the top 10 – with Lando Norris a strong seventh and Oscar Piastri rounding out the top 10.
Yuki Tsunoda was impressively eighth-quickest for AlphaTauri, three tenths down on Norris but ahead (by just 0.03s) of Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin – which set an identical time to Piastri’s McLaren in Q3.
George Russell was the highest-profile elimination in Q2, the Mercedes driver missing out on Q3 by just 0.004s to his team-mate Hamilton.
“Oh sugar! We just don’t have the pace this weekend guys,” Russell said.
Late improvements from Piastri’s McLaren and Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri condemned Russell to 11th place on the grid.
Esteban Ocon’s Alpine also missed the cut, as did Alex Albon’s Williams – which looked to be a real Q3 contender until the final runs in Q2, where Albon complained he was delayed behind Sainz’s Ferrari as Sainz was recovering from finding the escape road at Turn 3.
Valtteri Bottas never looked like troubling the top 10 in his Alfa Romeo, while Logan Sargeant was the slowest of the Q2 runners, lapping 0.153s slower than he did in Q1.
Zhou Guanyu and Nico Hulkenberg joined Kevin Magnussen, Pierre Gasly and Nick de Vries in being eliminated from Q1, which was twice disrupted by red flags.
De Vries, who lapped an impressive sixth-fastest in practice, caused the first of those stoppages by outbraking himself into Turn 3 and nosing his AlphaTauri hard into the barriers.
🚩 RED FLAG 🚩
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 28, 2023
“Oh my God! Aaaaaagh,” cried out de Vries, whose AlphaTauri team appeared to be dealing with a brake problem before the session began.
When the session finally resumed after a delay to fix the barrier, Gasly shunted his Alpine in the same spot – carrying too much speed into the left-hander and crunching his car’s right-rear corner into the wall.
“I’m sorry, I locked the front,” Gasly told his team. “I couldn’t stop the car.”
Frustration for Gasly and Alpine 😖
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 28, 2023
After the session resumed again, Magnussen was called into the pits with an intermittent engine problem Haas told him it “couldn’t risk” staying out on-track with. Having been inside the top 15 after his first run, Magnussen tumbled to 18th as others improved.
Sainz, Russell, Tsunoda and Ocon were all at risk of elimination before the red flags, while Hulkenberg sat comfortably inside the top 15, but in the final reckoning he was dumped out after lapping 0.133s slower than Ocon’s Alpine – which narrowly made it through after also grazing the barrier.
Sainz, Russell and Tsunoda all progressed comfortably, leaving Zhou’s Alfa Romeo to miss the Q2 cut by just 0.02s.
|Nyck de Vries