The Saturday in F1 Azerbaijan GP was chaos all-through, it started like that and ended the same way, leaving hosts of drivers happy and unhappy.
While the crash-laden drivers will be talked upon later on, at the front, it was Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on pole for F1 Azerbaijan GP, which was not the only surprise, as Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton joined him on the front row, thanks to a red flag end.
Hamilton used the tow of Valtteri Bottas to set the second-best time, which was enough in the end for him, but not the Finn as he was left with only the 10th best time. While there was some elation in the Brit’s camp, F1 title rival, Verstappen, wasn’t.
For the second straight F1 weekend, he thinks, he was robbed. His teammate Sergio Perez, too, only managed seventh in the end, equally disgruntled. For Leclerc, though, it will be to stay in the front for as long, as he feels Red Bull and Mercedes to be faster.
“It feels good,” said Leclerc. “It feels better than Monaco. Even though it still doesn’t feel as good as a pole position should feel just because for the red flags. On the other hand I’m very happy with the performance we have had all weekend. We were quite surprised. We definitely didn’t expect this type of performance, so it is looking good for the future and we need to keep pushing like that.
“But for now, it’s all good. About the lap I’m pretty happy. Turns 4, 5 and 6 I’m not very happy about it but then I had Lewis or Valtteri, I don’t know, to help me a little bit in the last sector so very happy to be on pole. I think it’s going to be difficult to keep these two behind me. In FP2 we weren’t as strong as Red Bull or Mercedes so we need to keep working and keep pushing but it’s not going to be an easy F1 race.”
At the same time, Hamilton, added: I think there was a little bit more to come, so I was excited for the last run. I think it would have been close but I can’t say that I would have been quicker than Charles but I definitely think there was time left on the table. I think I was a little bit too close to Valtteri on that first lap. So, I struggled.
“I was a bit down in the middle sector because I was just too close to the car ahead – but anyways, I will take it. We’ve got a long race. It’s very difficult race here but just really, incredibly proud of the guys, the whole crew for the amazing work. For everyone just being open-minded. We’ve made a lot of changes, there’s been so much work back at the factory overnight,” he summed up, while stressing on the different tricks they tried to extract some potential, which they managed to from FP3 to F1 qualifying.
For Bottas, it was simple bad luck again. The Baku weekend was for Hamilton to decide, who goes first in Q3, where the Brit chose himself to be behind for the tow. On the lap, where the Finn could have improved, it was red-flagged. He is still optimistic about the F1 race, as he reckons, the circuit is good enough to overtake.
Moving on to the frustrations of Verstappen and Perez, the former is taking the result to the chin and hoping to use the race pace advantage in the race. I was very confident that we definitely could fight for pole,” he said. “I think throughout the weekend already but also in qualifying. Of course for me it was… after missing basically my performance run in FP3, it was about just building it up and it was all going well – but how all of Q3 went, it was just unfortunate but still, third, we can still fight from here.”
For Perez, it was not the cleanest first laps at the start of Q3, which meant, he was only seventh in the end. “It was a big disappointment,” he said. “I was on a great lap, into Turn 4, I was about two-tenths up on my time, and I locked up. I think I was a little bit too close to Lando, and the wind picked up. I locked up, I lost the lap. I was pretty confident of getting a good lap time out of it.
“We’ve been strong all weekend. I think we were P2, Q1, P1, Q2, and Q3, really when it mattered, it was a disaster, also with the out laps. The track is so big, but we just seemed to, because we all want to be together, it’s a disaster, starting that lap. Actually in terms of track position, Q3 was the worst that I had all weekend.”
While the Red Bull had their troubles, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly enjoyed his run, to be fourth on the grid. “Honestly, it is pretty incredible,” he said. “We did not really understand where it came from. I just pushed and did my own thing this weekend.
“It seems to be working very well on this track. At the end of the day, we were fighting with the Mercedes, the Ferrari and the Red Bull …. up to sector 2… I think we were still in the fight for all. We were losing a bit in the last race as Charles had a tow. It is just a fantastic performance from the whole team.
“To be in the position to fight with such a result shows the good momentum and the good work that goes in. it is not something we have seen often for this team. It shows the good momentum and the good work,” he summed up. The joy for Gasly, was no joy for either Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and or Esteban Ocon.
Despite making in the Top 10, Alonso felt, the drivers who crashed will be able to change parts on their cars, while the ones who didn’t will have the same machinery. “It is the rules that we all know, I know there were some discussions already after Monaco, when Leclerc crash, and you are able to repair the car,” he said.
“And I think they are going to be even more now because there are four or five cars that they made a mistake today. And there is no price to pay. And that’s a little a bit unfair for all the other people that we didn’t make any mistake. But the rule is like this, we know that the rule is like this before we start the weekend. And sometimes we may be right in the wall and we will benefit from this rule, but it is the way it is.
“But maybe, we need to think how we improve because we didn’t enjoy qualifying today from inside the cars and probably from the outside because everyone is hoping to see the real battle on the last couple of new sets of tires in Q3 when the gloves are off. And you want to see that and you always finish with a red flag so there will for sure be some talks.”
His teammate Ocon looked good to make it into the Top 10 but lost out due to red flag. The Spaniard, though, gained a place for a penalty to McLaren’s Lando Norris, who lost three places for not pitting straightaway when the red flag was waved in Q1. The Brit wasn’t really happy with the call, where he had three superlicense points.
“It’s a tough one because going at the speeds we do, [you] have to make such a quick decision what’s the best thing and safest thing to do,” said Norris. “And I felt like what I did was exactly the safest thing to do. For all I knew, the pit lane could have been blocked and you’re not allowed to enter the pit lane and then it could have been a different story, like: ‘why did you enter the pit lane, you shouldn’t have done that’. So it’s a tough one.
“For certain situations, like I said, they should just think what it’s like to be in the driver’s seat for a second and what they have to react to, the speed they’re doing and the time you have to react to things and so on. I think, obviously, a reprimand or something is the right thing to do, to have a bit more understanding in some some areas and be able to [override] the actual ruling itself and have a bit of a rethink on what’s actually really fair for the driver or the team or whatever went wrong. I didn’t put anyone in harm’s way.
“If anything, I took the safer option out of boxing and not boxing and that makes it even worse. So I don’t deserve three points on my licence for this, I didn’t do anything dangerous. I didn’t do anything because I didn’t know and I was clueless or anything, there was nothing to do with that. I know what the rules are and so on. So it’s not like I have a lack of understanding or anything like that, but for some situations they should actually rethink what’s going on.
“It shouldn’t ruin my race having to make this kind of decision. It shouldn’t ruin my Sunday for such a thing. So it’s, in my opinion, a bad decision or just an unfair penalty, an unfair ruling. But it’s the way it is. I can’t do anything about it,” summed up Norris.
Moving onto the crash-laden F1 drivers, there were five of them in all, spread across Q1, Q2 and Q3. It was Stroll who was the first victim of the narrow streets of Baku, hitting the turn 15 barrier and ending his session. The Canadian locked up his own right-front tyre upon braking, and hit the outside wall causing terminal damage to his Aston Martin’s suspension system.
The young F1 driver took blame for the incident, which he says caused him to apologize to the team. “It was my mistake, and I have apologised to the team. Turn 15 is a challenging corner, as we have seen all weekend. It is off-camber and you brake over to the right, which means it is easy to lock up the front-right tyre under braking,” Stroll said.
“With a tailwind like today, you can be caught out. I came into the corner too hot and locked up the tyre after I was already committed. I am obviously frustrated with myself, but the focus is on bouncing back. You can overtake in Baku, so we will try to work our way up the field as much as we can in the race,” he argued.
Antonio Giovinazzi’s session also ended at turn 15, with the Italian running wide and hitting the outside wall in similar fashion to Stroll. Like the Canadian’s accident, Giovinazzi’s brought out the red flag — the second of Q1. “It’s disappointing to do a mistake like this when we looked strong,” he admitted. “I locked up in the middle of the corner and, when that happens in a turn like that, it’s very difficult to recover: I apologise to the team as we had it in us to do a good result today.
“At least, this is not Monaco and we can still recover and have a good race, especially if our pace is like today’s. We had the speed to get in Q2 and possibly even Q3, so we will not give up: everything is possible here in Baku and we’ll be ready to take the opportunity,” said a more optimistic Giovinazzi.
Punctuating Q2 was Daniel Ricciardo’s session-ending accident, in which he buried the front end of his McLaren in the barrier. The Australian expressed apologies to crew members who have to fix his car, but insisted that his team still have a shot at a good result in Sunday’s race. “Obviously not the way I wanted to end the session.
“This track can certainly bite, and it did. Crashing never feels good and I feel for the crew who have to do the work, but that’s what happens when trying to find the limit on a street circuit, and we can still take positives. We took a good step in getting more out of the car and understanding it, but it’s still proving tricky to put it all together.
“We’ll keep working and tomorrow’s a long F1 race. A lot of things will happen and, as you saw in quali, there’s probably going to be a bit of chaos. Hopefully we’ve got our trouble out of the way today, so we can push on tomorrow and get after it. We’ve got a free tyre choice, so we’ll see how we can make some opportunities there. It’s all still open, so I’ll just learn from the mistake and progress from here.”
At the very end of F1 Qualifying, Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda found the barriers in an incident that also involved Carlos Sainz of Ferrari. The former outbroke himself and ended his session by direct damage to his suspension, while the latter spun upon braking and hit the barrier lining the run-off area.
Tsunoda admitted to pushing too much, which caused the accident in his first ever Q3 outing. “It’s a really mixed feeling today, I’ve made good progress here in Azerbaijan through the weekend, which has been really positive and then I made it through to Q3 for the first time.
“I think there was the potential to be starting the race in a higher position, but I was just pushing too much, and it didn’t pay off today, so obviously I’m disappointed and I just want to apologise to the team. Tomorrow is a new day though and I think, compared to Monaco, overtaking is a lot easier here so that, combined with a good tyre strategy, could be good for us in the race,” Tsunoda says.
Sainz blamed much of his accident on the drama which he witnessed ahead, with Tsunoda hitting the barriers. The Spaniard, though, sees positive signs as he approaches Sunday’s F1 race. “A very frustrating qualifying for me again today. I am disappointed we couldn’t extract all the potential of the car due to the circumstances.
“I was improving my lap time on the last attempt when the AlphaTauri crashed in front of me. I saw the smoke from the lock up but hoped he had continued. When I saw the crash it was too late and I ended up touching the barriers. At these speeds, the outcome could have been much worse, but the car seems to be OK.
“On the positive side, our pace was strong, even more than we expected before coming to Baku. Congrats to Charles for putting it on pole. Overall it’s a great result for the team. Now we’ll start preparing for the race and I will do my absolute best to recover tomorrow,” Sainz said.
Here’s how F1 Azerbaijan GP qualifying panned out
Here’s Nikita Mazepin on military service