Charles Leclerc Scores Suprise Pole Position in Azerbaijan

Charles Leclerc beat out his Red Bull competitors by nearly three tenths to score a convincing pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The Ferrari driver is the first driver to ever score consecutive poles at the track following his 2021 effort. He ended up fourth that year, and will be hoping to convert his starting position to a win on Sunday.

It’s Leclerc’s fourth pole in a row and his sixth this season. This one comes as a surprise, considering the speed the Red Bulls had demonstrated throughout the season on long straights which the Baku track features, even to Leclerc himself.

“This one I didn’t expect and I thought Red Bulls were stronger,” he said. “I really struggled to see that we were faster, but then in the last lap, everything came together and I managed to do a good lap, so extremely happy”

“It feels good, this one,” he said, and added: “I’m really excited for tomorrow.”

Sergio Perez will start outside the Ferrari driver, beating out his teammate Max Verstappen to lead the Red Bulls. But he still felt he could’ve done better if he’d had the benefit of the draft.

“It was not an ideal qualifying,” Perez said, “because at the end we had a problem with the engine and we couldn’t turn it on. So, I was basically on my own and that’s very powerful around here.”

But he stressed that qualifying was far from a guarantee of race performance: “Tomorrow it’s a very long race, we just have to make sure that we’re there. At any point you can make a mistake, so that’s it.”

Teammate Verstappen, who will start third, also said that his team has “a good opportunity for tomorrow,” because “clearly in the long runs normally our car should be quite good.”

He wasn’t as happy with the car as Perez though: “The start of the lap was good then it went away from me a little bit. Tiny mistakes. So not ideal. In general I was struggling to find front and rear balance over one lap. Not of course what I want.”

George Russell rounds out the top five for Mercedes and his teammate Lewis Hamilton could only manage seventh, although not without controversy. He was cleared of holding up Lando Norris by driving too slowly on his outlap after a meeting with the stewards.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said his team needs an overhaul, and said: “we’re lacking pretty much everywhere. If you look at it through rose-tinted glasses you can say hopefully four of them crash out in Turn One and then you can win the race.”

Norris failed to advance out of the second round of qualifying, and will start eleventh, one spot ahead of his teammate. He credited Hamilton’s slow pace as the reason and ended qualifying frustrated.

1 16 Charles Leclerc FERRARI 1:42.865 1:42.046 1:41.359 19
2 11 Sergio Perez RED BULL RACING RBPT 1:42.733 1:41.955 1:41.641 18
3 1 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING RBPT 1:42.722 1:42.227 1:41.706 19
4 55 Carlos Sainz FERRARI 1:42.957 1:42.088 1:41.814 19
5 63 George Russell MERCEDES 1:43.754 1:43.281 1:42.712 23
6 10 Pierre Gasly ALPHATAURI RBPT 1:43.268 1:43.129 1:42.845 23
7 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:43.939 1:43.182 1:42.924 22
8 22 Yuki Tsunoda ALPHATAURI RBPT 1:43.595 1:43.376 1:43.056 22
9 5 Sebastian Vettel ASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES 1:43.279 1:43.268 1:43.091 18
10 14 Fernando Alonso ALPINE RENAULT 1:44.083 1:43.360 1:43.173 20
11 4 Lando Norris MCLAREN MERCEDES 1:44.237 1:43.398 16
12 3 Daniel Ricciardo MCLAREN MERCEDES 1:44.437 1:43.574 17
13 31 Esteban Ocon ALPINE RENAULT 1:43.903 1:43.585 13
14 24 Zhou Guanyu ALFA ROMEO FERRARI 1:43.777 1:43.790 13
15 77 Valtteri Bottas ALFA ROMEO FERRARI 1:44.478 1:44.444 13
16 20 Kevin Magnussen HAAS FERRARI 1:44.643 9
17 23 Alexander Albon WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:44.719 9
18 6 Nicholas Latifi WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:45.367 8
19 18 Lance Stroll ASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES 1:45.371 7
20 47 Mick Schumacher HAAS FERRARI 1:45.775 9
Owen Johnson