Formula 1 Racing

Leclerc grabs Baku sprint pole despite crash

Leclerc grabs Baku sprint pole despite crash

A 1m41.697s from Leclerc amid the first runs in the eight-minute SQ3 session proved unassailable, and a second set of laps from both Perez and Verstappen could not topple the Monegasque’s searing pace around the Baku circuit.

The Red Bull duo was especially keen to be first out in the final part of qualifying, sitting at the pitlane exit for a few minutes between sessions, and immediately began proceedings with the initial headline efforts.

Perez posted a 1m41.876s to go top, and Verstappen was unable to beat his team-mate’s effort having complained that he “lost all the rear in the middle sector”.

Leclerc reprised his form from Friday and fired his Ferrari across the line with a 1m41.697s to sit on top of the order, once again throwing down the gauntlet to the Red Bull duo.

Although Perez began to hit back, setting the best middle sector time of the session and threatening to usurp Leclerc, he was unable to make the difference in the final sector and crossed the line 0.15s shy of Leclerc’s benchmark.

Attempting to better his own time, Leclerc then gave the Ferrari garage a scare by putting his Ferrari into the barrier at Turn 5, but only damaged his front wing and was able to back it out of the wall – compromising team-mate Carlos Sainz’s lap in the process.

Verstappen improved his time but was unable to claim any ground on Leclerc and Perez, and will thus start the sprint race from third on the grid.

With Sainz unable to make any gains, George Russell moved past the Spanish driver to claim fourth on the grid for the shortened Saturday race. His team-mate Lewis Hamilton starts from sixth, alongside Sainz on the third row.

Having carried his Williams all the way to SQ3, Alex Albon will start the sprint from seventh ahead of Fernando Alonso, who was suffering amid continued DRS issues at Aston Martin. Lance Stroll was ninth quickest, while Lando Norris could not run in SQ3 having no sets of soft tyres left.

The rules dictate that a fresh set of softs must be used, but McLaren decided to sacrifice a potential SQ3 outing on Friday and employed that set during his Q3 lap, giving him seventh on the grid for Sunday’s race.

Oscar Piastri was unable to progress to the final part of qualifying, despite getting into the top 10 late on in SQ2 with a lap 0.03s shy of team-mate Norris.

But Stroll received a tow from Alonso in a showing of great teamwork among the Aston Martins, slingshotting the Canadian into the top 10 at Piastri’s expense.

Nico Hulkenberg

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