F1: Leclerc outduels Verstappen to win pole in Azerbaijan

–by Mark Cipolloni–

Charles Leclerc has won the pole for the Azerbaijan GP for the third year in a row, with a lap of 1m40.203s to beat the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.188s.

It was the 19th career pole for Leclerc with brought smiles in the Scuderia garage after a difficult season so far as he breaks the Red Bull stranglehold on the 2023 season.

Despite winning pole last year, Leclerc crashed out of the lead, so a win on Sunday certainly is all to play for.

“For sure, I’m surprised,” said Leclerc.

“We thought it would be great to be in front of Aston Martin and Mercedes in qualifying. Really happy with the lap, the feeling was good since the start, so really happy. The pace seems strong, we know the car is good.”

Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan at Baku City Circuit on April 28, 2023 in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“It’s always tough here to put the whole lap together,” said Verstappen.

“Around here, it’s just really hard, you are on the limit trying to make everything perfect. We know we have a very good race car, so all in all, it’s not too bad.”

“It’s tough to put the whole lap together round here and also the last run in Q3 was maybe not as clean because we also tried a different out-lap, and I didn’t really feel it was better,” he said. “When you have that feeling already, then you’re not as confident as the lap before. I think that’s also why the lap time didn’t really come out of it.”

Verstappen said he overheated the Pirelli soft compound, a mistake triggered in part by the lack of practice time under the sprint format.

“We just tried to put a bit more temperature in them,” he said. “After FP1 I think sometimes you are not fully understanding what you want to do for qualifying.

“The first one was good but still not perfect, so we tried a bit of work and it looks amazing; that’s a bit what happened in Australia, but this time I guess it didn’t work.”

“At the end of the day it’s also not really bad for us,” he said. “We have a really good race car, but it has never been super dominant over a single lap. I felt quite good with the little long run we did, and I think we will learn a little bit more tomorrow during the sprint qualifying and race, which probably gives you even more of an idea for Sunday.”

“We know we have a quick race car, and we have to try and use that on Sunday. We all know the points are on Sunday, so I don’t mind being a bit slower on Saturday and quick on Sunday — or whatever with the formats now. Can I still say that? Sunday? Saturday?”

Sergio Perez was third fastest in the 2nd Red Bull, 0.292s back.

“It was tricky in Q1 with the amount of red flags. It was really challenging, I’m a bit disappointed to be sittingP3, I felt there was more in it. My lap wasn’t that clean but if there’s a circuit you can race it is definitely here.”

Carlos Sainz Jr. was 4th in the 2nd Ferrari, but a massive 0.813s behind.

Lewis Hamilton rounded out the top-5 for Mercedes, 0.974s off the pace.

Well, Ferrari seems to be back in business, don’t they? And with another shootout tomorrow, it could be two P1 slots for Leclerc this weekend as he looks to claw back some points after not finishing two of the first three races.

Fernando Alonso was sixth, ahead of Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda.

Lance Stroll wound up ninth, and Oscar Piastri rounded out the top-10.

More to follow…..

Azerbaijan GP Qualifying Results

1 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:41.269 1:41.037 1:40.203 21
2 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing Honda RBPT 1:41.398 1:40.822 1:40.391 20
3 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing Honda RBPT 1:41.756 1:41.131 1:40.495 21
4 55 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:42.197 1:41.369 1:41.016 24
5 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:42.113 1:41.650 1:41.177 24
6 14 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes 1:41.720 1:41.370 1:41.253 23
7 4 Lando Norris Mclaren Mercedes 1:42.154 1:41.485 1:41.281 20
8 22 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri Honda RBPT 1:42.234 1:41.569 1:41.581 23
9 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes 1:42.524 1:41.576 1:41.611 23
10 81 Oscar Piastri Mclaren Mercedes 1:42.455 1:41.636 1:41.611 24
11 63 George Russell Mercedes 1:42.073 1:41.654 18
12 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine Renault 1:42.622 1:41.798  – 19
13 23 Alexander Albon Williams Mercedes 1:42.171 1:41.818  – 19
14 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo Ferrari 1:42.582 1:42.259  – 19
15 2 Logan Sargeant Williams Mercedes 1:42.242 1:42.395  – 19
16 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo Ferrari 1:42.642  –  – 11
17 27 Nico Hulkenberg Haas Ferrari 1:42.755  –  – 10
18 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari 1:43.417  –  – 9
19 10 Pierre Gasly Alpine Renault 1:44.853  –  – 6
NC 21 Nyck De Vries AlphaTauri Honda 1:55.282  –  – 3


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