The city streets of Baku caught a total of five drivers off guard during qualifying for the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. But it was Charles Leclerc who put up an outstanding performance during the dramatic session. Leclerc has claimed pole position for the race for Ferrari. After a difficult weekend for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton was only second-fastest. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will start the race from third on the grid. Here is how Saturday’s chatoic qualifying panned out around the Baku City Circuit.
Even though Red Bull looked like the favourites through the weekend, Hamilton scrambled up a good lap in Q1 to set the pace. But It was not without drama. The 18-minute session saw two red flags with Lance Stroll hitting the barriers, then later Antonio Giovinazzi also was a casualty of the tight twisty street circuit. With two drivers already out of the session, the remaining three drivers to not make it through to Q2 were Nicolas Latifi for Williams and the two Haas cars of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin. They will start 16th, 17th and 18th respectively, with Giovinazzi and Stroll bringing up the rear.
Verstappen was the fastest in Q2 which was brought to a premature end. Daniel Ricciardo on his second run from P13, crashed his McLaren into the barriers at turn 3. The red flag was brought and with less than 2 mins left, the session was stopped. This meant that Sebastian Vettel and Esteban Ocon did not get a chance to attempt for a lap for Q3. They will start from P11 and P12. Ricciardo will start from P13 ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and George Russell in 14th and 15th on the grid respectively.
On their first runs, Mercedes did two warm-up laps. But Leclerc got a slipstream from Hamilton right at the end of his hot lap to set a 1:41.218 to claim provisional pole. Hamilton on his hot lap, with Bottas assisting with the toe, was still over two-tenths off the Ferrari’s pace.
If we hadn’t witnessed enough drama, the second run in Q3 was also brought to a premature end. Rookie driver Yuki Tsunoda in his Q3 debut was too eager on his final run and was left with a face full of Tecpro barriers after a lock-up. That distracted Carlos Sainz in the Ferrari behind him to lock up and spin out. Sainz crashed into the barriers in the run-off areas and may require some attention on his car before the race. The red flag was brought out a record fourth time to bring the session and qualifying to an end.
This means that Charles Leclerc will start from pole for Ferrari. After a tumultuous weekend again, Hamilton mustered up a lap to put a Mercedes on the front row and he will start from P2. Max Verstappen will start from P3 with Pierre Gasly alongside in P4 for AlphaTauri. Carlos Sainz will start from P5 with Lando Norris for company alongside in sixth in the McLaren. The other Red Bull of Sergio Perez will start from seventh on the grid. Yuki Tsunoda’s time was the eighth fastest. Fernando Alonso will start from P9 for Alpine while Valtteri Bottas will start from P10 in the other Mercedes.
However, Lando Norris will be investigated after the race due to a red flag infringement. The British driver may incur a penalty which may reshuffle the top-10 of the grid slightly. But after three dramatic practice sessions followed by a chaotic qualifying, the race on Sunday has potential to be very exciting.
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