The Friday in F1 Azerbaijan GP was a tricky one with just the lone practice session as it set some of the tone for a likely exciting Sunday.

With just the lone practice, the F1 teams and drivers went into Azerbaijan GP qualifying with less information and more instinct. The red flags in Q1 only added to the challenge, but the end result wasn’t too different at the front even though the mid-pack saw change.

After showing good one lap pace in the first three races, Ferrari finally got the pole courtesy Charles Leclerc over the Red Bull pair. The Monegasque looked good all-through at a F1 venue where he completed a hat-trick of pole positions.

It was a surprise by his own admission and was a good job done considering teammate Carlos Sainz struggled where he couldn’t get things right. But the key job will be to see how they do in race trim where Leclerc conceded that they will be behind.

That is why Max Verstappen looked a bit more relaxed despite losing out on F1 pole. The Dutchman said they tried something on the final lap which didn’t work in Baku, but worked in Australia. Nevertheless, he is confident of the long run pace to beat Ferrari.

His teammate Sergio Perez felt relieved and regained some confidence he lost after Australia. The Mexican was up there with Verstappen and Leclerc but missed out just like the Dutchman in the middle sector to end up third which was better than a Q1 exit.

The two F1 outfits were ahead of Mercedes and Aston Martin duos, where the former saw George Russell getting knocked out by 0.004s from teammate Lewis Hamilton. The former rued a mistake that he made on his final Q2 lap as Q3 was an easy gig for him.

Hamilton, though, conceded of the pace deficit on the straights to their F1 rivals. But he is happy in getting a Top 5 result ahead of Aston Martin, who suffered from DRS issues. Both Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll were at the receiving end of it.

Leclerc: “Really good, especially considering the beginning of the season I’ve had. I mean, obviously, we haven’t had the greatest of beginnings. But it’s great to be back on pole. Honestly, I did not expect it. I think we came into the weekend thinking that it would be a great result if we were in front of the Astons and the Mercedes, and we find ourselves on pole. So really, really happy with that. We need to see obviously tomorrow for the Sprint race and for the race on Sunday, as I think we are a little bit more on the back foot there. But anyway, a really good surprise and extremely happy with my lap. I was surprised in FP1 with the grip there was. I think the new tarmac helped it a little bit and the grip was good. Then there’s, of course, a lot of track evolution, a lot of driver evolution, especially on a track like this, but it was much better than what I thought. I think there’s been a good step in terms of set-up. Then the qualifying since the beginning of the season hasn’t been that bad. I think in Australia, we didn’t do a great job, I think I did not drive well, and before that we weren’t that far off. So, I think we gained a little bit in qualifying, I expect the gain to be more in the race, but we will also be much further behind in the race. But I think it’s mostly set-up.

Verstappen: “It’s not bad. I mean, it’s better than last! No, I mean, it’s been alright. It’s just, it’s tough to put the whole lap together around here. And yeah, also, the last run in Q3 was maybe not the cleanest. We also tried a bit of a different out lap. And I didn’t really feel it was better. And when you have that feeling already, then you are on your lap, not as confident as the lap before. And I think that’s why also the lap time didn’t really come out of it. I was just trying to put a bit more temperature in them. It was just, you know, after FP1, I think sometimes you’re not fully understanding what you want to do in Qualifying. And I mean, the first run was good, but it was still not perfect. So we tried, and I mean, it could have worked and then it looks amazing and that’s a bit what happened in Australia. And this time, I guess it didn’t work. But it’s not the end of the world. But I mean, at the end of the day, it’s also not really bad for us. I mean, we know that we have a quick race car and, yeah, we have to try and of course use that, mainly on Sunday. But first, of course, we’ll wait and see what we can do tomorrow.”

Perez: “I think in Turn 3 I lost more than a tenth. I went really deep. And yeah, just in general not putting a clean lap, with so many corners around. And there’s always a combination if you don’t get the, like, one corner right, like Turn 6, then always Turn 7 can be a bit tricky. Five and 6, there is a combination in that corner. So I think all in all, it wasn’t a very clean lap. I think certainly, I had more pace than what I’ve shown today. But I’m still in the fight, you know. I think with this tricky Qualifying and very little time to get ready for Quali, it was just important to make sure that we are in a good position for Sunday. I think I’m getting back my confidence. It really knocked my confidence quite a bit, if I’m honest, what happened in Melbourne, especially with, you know, we had a three-week break and then you go straight into Qualifying pretty much. And it’s all about braking here, having that confidence on the barking and I think I’m getting there.”

Hamilton: “We’re trying as hard as we can, giving it absolutely everything out there. Timing and getting into a rhythm, really pulling out everything, is not easy on this track. I think in Q2 I struggled. I had more pace, I just didn’t get that last lap. My Q3 run one was a really sweet lap. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to match… I just matched it basically at the end [of the session], but needed just a little bit more time to nip a Ferrari. This is definitely a good position to start from on Sunday. Naturally, this is not the position we want as a team – we exist to win. But everybody has that winning mindset and everyone’s working as hard as they can.

“We haven’t had an upgrade this weekend, but we’re working towards one that will hopefully put us a little bit closer to the battle ahead. I didn’t really know what to expect this weekend. I knew that the Red Bulls would be particularly quick. I didn’t realise we’d have such a huge deficit on the straights, but it’s a good indicator. We’re slower on the straights and slower in the middle sector, so we’ve got a lot of work to do to rectify that in the car – it’s not the easiest one to drive. I’m happy to be on the third row and hopefully tomorrow we can have a bit of a better battle.”

Alonso: “I think… we could have been a little bit better. We had some issues in FP1 and also in qualifying with DRS, which cost us a few tenths. Yeah, being so tight in the standing will make a difference but nevertheless it’s only Friday – it’s a long weekend ahead of us [with] Sprint qualifying tomorrow and another race and another race on Sunday. So yeah, plenty of opportunities and hopefully we can recover a few places. I think it’s going to be exciting. Waking up tomorrow and knowing that you go in the car and it’s Q1 already – so there is no warm-up, there is no practice, so we have to be ready for that. But yeah I like the challenge.”

Behind the top teams, the McLaren pairing shone in F1 Azerbaijan GP qualifying with both Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri making it in the Top 10. They do have updates in Baku and for now it worked well on the one lap side to be just behind the Top 4 teams.

In fact, Piastri set an identical lap time as Stroll in ninth. But Norris and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda are handicapped for Saturday’s Sprint Shootout. Having used all the five sets of the soft tyres, if they make it into Q3 on Saturday, they won’t be allowed to set a time.

Since a new soft tyre is mandatory for a Q3 run, they will have to sit out. But for the Japanese F1 driver, it was a solid return in the Top 10 and continuing of his good run in 2023. Teammate Nyck de Vries rued his crash in Q1 considering Tsunoda’s Q3 run.

Likewise, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly was left with no words after his crash. Having already missed FP1 due to hydraulic leak, the Frenchman could only manage few laps in a F1 grand prix where the team has updates. Teammate Esteban Ocon could only manage a Q2 result.

Their loss was a gain for Williams where Logan Sargeant joined Alexander Albon in Q2 for the first time. Even though they couldn’t progress further but they showed better pace than Alfa Romeo and Haas, who had an average outing in Baku.

While Valtteri Bottas made it in Q2, Zhou Guanyu missed out on the same and for the Haas pairing, both Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen did not make it in. The Dane not had problems in FP2, but faced more in qualifying to limit his running.

Norris: “A reasonable qualifying – it was great to get two cars in Q3. I think we could have got a bit more out of it and could have been a few positions higher, we just didn’t quite get it right in Q3. We didn’t get out when we wanted to, and so missed a tow. It was a bit unfortunate, but the team still did a good job otherwise. Thanks to all of the team here and back at the factory for getting the upgrades out, we still have some optimisation to do, but it’s been positive so far. We’re in a good position for Sunday, hopefully, we can do a bit better tomorrow.”

Tsunoda: “First of all, the entire team did a great job. Our weakness has been straight-line speed and everyone in Bicester has worked hard to bring upgrades to make us more competitive, so I’m pleased with the result and excited about the future. It’s a shame how qualifying ended for Nyck as he was looking strong during FP1, but I am glad he’s OK. Looking at my qualifying, I’m happy I have been able to maximise the car’s performance and relieved with my first P8 of the year. It’s a step in the right direction and points can be possible over this weekend, so we’ll continue working to find even more performance so we can bring home some points during the Sprint race tomorrow and the race on Sunday.”

Sargeant: “Qualifying was good. It was a pretty good showing for the team and I finally got into my first Q2. It feels like it’s been a long time coming. I was really happy to deliver the lap under pressure at the end of Q1 and then I was going for it in Q2 and didn’t quite get it right so that was that. Free Practice was tricky and coming from that I had to make a pretty big step so I’m happy with my turnaround to make a good jump forward and get closer to where I need to be. All in all, it was a positive day and the best part about it is that we get to do it all again tomorrow!”

Magnussen: “It’s frustrating to be out with an issue but what can we do? We don’t know if it was an assembly issue or just something else out of our hands. It was just cutting out and miss-firing, so I didn’t have much power down the straights – which showed on the lap time. It’s extra frustrating as I feel the lap time we did do with that electrical issue on my first run showed that we had some pace. It just didn’t happen today for us. Our time will come, it just hasn’t been too good so far. Not what we wanted but there’s still a long weekend ahead.”

De Vries: “Today was very disappointing. Our package has been looking really strong during FP1 and we were hoping to capitalise on that in qualifying. We began the session with a little setback that had to be investigated, so it wasn’t the smoothest start. I haven’t been able to talk to the team yet so before jumping to any conclusions, I want to look at and analyse the data, to see what really happened. Looking ahead to a new start tomorrow, we’re hoping to fight with P7 and P8. Historically, Baku can become quite messy, especially at the start, so we will see what happens. The updates we brought here look promising, so I’ll get together with everyone tonight to find what can be improved on for the rest of the weekend.”

Gasly: “Obviously very disappointed. It was a pretty tough day, a pretty tough Friday overall for us as a team. FP1 didn’t go as planned with a hydraulic issue in the first 20 minutes, and the boys did an incredible job to repair the car, literally a minute before the qualifying. And then after it was tricky, with such few laps, and coming into Turn 3, I didn’t brake so late, but didn’t brake hard enough. Thought I could make the corner and unfortunately just understeered, and put it into the wall. Pretty frustrating, but thanks to the new [Sprint weekend] format at least we can put this behind us for tomorrow and refresh with the Sprint tomorrow.

“But a pretty frustrating day. The reality is that this morning I think I did one lap in [the 1m 46s], and the pace in quali was [1m 41s], so it was the first 10 minutes, and then in quali with the red flag I was going to do a decent lap time on that second push. All in all, there is quite a lot to work on for tomorrow. Still another day, [the] race is long on Sunday. With the Sprint we know everything can happen, and we will go for it tomorrow. We have got to look at some positives where we can find some. But I think generally, it has been challenging for us as a team. We score the points only tomorrow afternoon and So, we will give our best shot and we can overtake, so we will have to use these opportunities and hopefully we can be a good surprise on Sunday, and also tomorrow.

Here’s how F1 Azerbaijan GP qualifying panned out