Azerbaijan Grand Prix – After identical times from Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc in Q3, the Ferrari driver got the better last run to secure pole for Sunday.
Nico Hulkenberg led the pack out for the first Friday qualifying session of the season, the Haas driver set a 1:44.305 to get the timesheets going. As in the practice session, Yellow Flags were quite a common occurrence but just as the clock was ticking down to the ten minute mark, Nyck de Vries locked up and went straight into the wall at T3 on his first fast lap.
De Vries had looked very strong in practice having set the sixth fastest time but his qualifying hadn’t started perfectly with the Dutch driver having to be pushed back into his garage to sort out an issue.
The Red Flag came out to allow the AlphaTauri to be extracted from the wall and as the session paused, Max Verstappen was the fastest with a 1:41.887, the only driver in the 1:41s so far, while Charles Leclerc was two tenths back in P2.
The drop zone consisted of the two Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, who had a less than ideal start to the weekend with Gasly’s hydraulic failure leaving him with a flaming car in practice while Ocon’s car had to be checked for potentially having the same problem and wasn’t able to complete practice either. Joining them was Yuki Tsunoda, and de Vries while Carlos Sainz was the only driver without any time recorded.
The session briefly resumed before the Reds were flying again with seven and a half minutes on the clock. Gasly took too much speed into the corner and collided with the wall, and had to stop on track. Sainz hadn’t had an easy time in those few moments either though, spinning on his lap but managing to keep his Ferrari out of the barriers and still without a time on the board.
There was a big queue at the end of the pitlane waiting for the session to resume as everyone wanted to try get a lap in before anything else potentially happened. As Verstappen and Perez traded lap times, Kevin Magnussen’s day ended with a 1:43.417 as his Haas team called him back to the pits with an unspecified issue.
Sainz finally managed to get a time on the board, a 1:42.614, which moved him out of the drop zone and into the top ten. It ended with Leclerc ahead of Verstappen and Alonso while Zhou Guanyu, and Nico Hulkenberg would join Magnussen, Gasly and de Vries to watch Q2 from the sidelines.
The Williams cars of Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant were the first out as the battle to get into the top ten started. Albon put in a 1:42.203 but Perez and Verstappen had brought the target time down to the 1:41.1s.
Halfway through Q2 Lando Norris headed out for the first time and set a 1:41.631 to go P7 while Leclerc took over at the top with a 1:41.037. Sainz briefly brought out the first Yellow Flag of Q2 when he had to reverse out of the T3 runoff. In the final few minutes the at risk drivers were Tsunoda, Ocon, Piastri, Valtteri Bottas and Sargeant but the AlphaTauri and McLaren drivers did manage to save themselves.
Verstappen ended P1 with a 1:40.822 ahead of Leclerc while Tsunoda and Piastri moved to P7 and P9 so they’ll continue on to fight for the top ten spots while George Russell lost out, his lap just 0.004 second slower than Lewis Hamilton in P10. Ocon, Albon, Bottas and Sargeant also finished in the drop zone.
The Red Bulls emerged from the pits first for the pole position shootout, they were joined by six of their rivals as Stroll and Piastri waited it out in the pits a little longer. Perez opened the times with a 1:40.563 while Verstappen and Leclerc both set 1:40.445s with the Dutch driver taking provisional pole as he set the time first.
The track emptied of all but the last emergers, Stroll and Piastri, as the others went to swap tyres and set themselves up for their final runs. Leclerc went 0.242 seconds ahead on his last effort, setting the fastest middle sector. Perez had been fastest in sector 1, while Verstappen owned the final third but the Ferrari racer took the position and he will lead the grid away on Sunday with Verstappen alongside him.
Perez took P3 while Sainz was half a second further back in P4. After just scraping through to Q3, Hamilton ended the day in P5, the last car within a second of Leclerc while Alonso took P6. Norris will line up alongside Tsunoda on row four while the last two spots in the top ten saw Stroll and Piastri both set 1:41.611 laps though the Canadian got there first so he’ll take P9.