Leclerc beats Verstappen to Baku GP pole

Charles Leclerc bested Max Verstappen to start Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix from pole position for the third year in succession.

Ferrari had looked quick all day in Baku, vying for top spot in the single hour of practice afforded to the drivers under the sprint rules and looking consistently competitive through the qualifying hour.

The scene was set for a duel between Leclerc and Verstappen, and the pair set equal times with their first laps, the Dutchman taking top spot by virtue of crossing the line first.

But Leclerc put the result beyond doubt with his second lap thanks to a blistering middle sector around a quarter of a second quicker than Verstappen’s best. The Red Bull driver fought back in the final split with a purple sector of his own, but it wasn’t enough, with Leclerc snatching his first pole of the season by 0.188s.

“For sure I’m surprised,” he said. “We came into the weekend thinking it would be a great weekend if we were in front of Aston Martin and Mercedes in qualifying, and in the end we’re on pole, so it’s a really good surprise.”


Verstappen suggested he hadn’t prepared his tires properly for his final lap on the way to second place.

“The second run we tried something different on the out-lap that maybe wasn’t ideal for the lap in the end,” he said. “Nevertheless, we’re P2. We know that we have a very good race car. All in all it’s not bad.”

More Formula 1!

F1 technical updates: 2023 Azerbaijan GP

Verstappen leads Baku GP practice

Verstappen doubles down on F1 quit threat

Sergio Perez completed the top three but was frustrated to be 0.292s off the pace in the tricky evening conditions.

“I’m disappointed to be sitting P3 because definitely there was more in it,” he said. “My lap wasn’t that clean. But if there’s a circuit where you can race, it’s here.”

Carlos Sainz was fourth, but the Spaniard was way off the pace at 0.813s adrift of his teammate, having struggled all day to match his Ferrari to the circuit. He was almost beaten by Lewis Hamilton, with the Mercedes driver 0.161 further back in fifth.

Fernando Alonso qualified sixth just 0.028s ahead of an on-form Lando Norris, the Briton making his first Q3 appearance of the year. Yuki Tsunoda likewise qualified in the top 10 for the first time this season and will start eighth ahead of Lance Stroll and Oscar Piastri.

George Russell was a shock exclusion in Q2 after being knocked out by teammate Hamilton by just 0.003s. He’ll line up 11th ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Williams driver Alex Albon.

Valtteri Bottas qualified 14th for Alfa Romeo ahead of Williams rookie Logan Sargeant in the first Q2 appearance of his career. It’s also the first time an American has made it past Q3 since Scott Speed qualified 15th at the 2007 British Grand Prix.

Zhou Guanyu will line up 16th ahead of Haas teammates Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen. It’s the fourth time the pair has qualified in that order, but Magnussen’s afternoon was compromised by a car problem that forced him to retire from the session before the end.

Pierre Gasly was classified 19th after smacking against the outside wall at Turn 3 after locking up on approach. The Frenchman had only just made it out in time for qualifying after his mechanics had forgone their lunches to rebuild his car after his practice fire, including installing a new power unit and gearbox, but their efforts ultimately came to nothing.

Only Nyck de Vries will start lower after the Dutchman speared into the barrier, also at Turn 3, earlier in the session. His AlphaTauri car was badly damaged after de Vries appeared to carry far too much speed into the corner, but TV radio replays suggested he may have been experiencing brake-by-wire problems earlier in the segment, which could have contributed to the smash.

Story originally appeared on Racer