Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Charles Leclerc will start on pole for both today’s Sprint as well as the Grand Prix tomorrow after securing pole for the Shootout.
The Williams cars were the first to take to the circuit for the inaugural Sprint Shootout to decide the grid line up for this afternoon’s Sprint, the first of six to be held throughout the season. For both SQ1 and SQ2 the drivers are required to use a new set of medium tyres while SQ3, to decide the pole, new softs are needed. Given both Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda used up all their new softs in qualifying yesterday that means that if either of them make it into SQ3 they won’t be able to take part.
Alex Albon opened the timesheets with a 1:45.472 and once everyone had put in a fast lap it was Charles Leclerc, pole sitter for tomorrow’s Grand Prix, who was in the lead with a 1:43.372 with Max Verstappen a little less than two tenths behind.
In the final two minutes the drivers in the danger zone were Lando Norris, Valtteri Bottas, Yuki Tsunoda, Pierre Gasly and Nyck de Vries but while Norris was able to get a lap in and move himself into the top ten, Logan Sergeant got slightly off-sighted by the Ferrari’s on a slow lap and went into the wall at the exit of T15.
The Red Flag was flown with 25 seconds on the clock so the session wouldn’t resume and it meant that Zhou Guanyu, Bottas, Tsunoda, Gasly and de Vries wouldn’t be continuing to SQ2. Tsunoda was particularly frustrated as he was on the start-finish straight, moments away from completing a lap that would’ve seen him move out of the drop zone, when the session was stopped.
Sergio Perez led the way out at the start of the second part of the Shootout, and he put in a 1:42.925. There’ll only be fourteen cars competing in the second part of the session as Sargeant had been P11 when he crashed.
Once everyone had put a banker lap in it was Verstappen’s 1:42.417 that led the way ahead of Leclerc who was four tenths slower at that stage. With two minutes to go Oscar Piastri, Kevin Magnussen, Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg were the drivers who needed to improve to get out of the elimination zone. At the front though the Red Bulls, in P1 and P3, had headed to the pits to wait out the last few minutes.
On track though it was all change around the lower positions and while Piastri had made it out of the drop zone he was demoted back in when Fernando Alonso gave his teammate, Lance Stroll, a tow which brought him into P8. It was a bit of a disappointment for McLaren though as, given Norris doesn’t have the tyres to compete in the next section, it would’ve been better for them if Piastri had got into the top
Perez once again headed the pack as they made their way out and put in a very quick 1:41.876 as his opening effort. Verstappen couldn’t challenge his teammate, not happy with his rear grip though the middle of the lap, but Leclerc continued his strong run this weekend and set a 1:41.697 to take provisional pole.
The drivers then proceeded to do a very slow lap to cool their tyres down, and the Ferraris were set to be the final drivers across the line. The last efforts started and Leclerc went into the wall at T5, the Yellow Flags came out but it was only Sainz behind that was compromised.
In the end there was no change at the top so Leclerc will start on pole for both races this weekend. Perez will join him on the front row this afternoon while Verstappen will share row two with George Russell. Sainz and Hamilton will be in P5 and P6 ahead of Alex Albon and Alonso on row 4. The final top ten spots for the Shootout will be filled by Stroll and Norris.