Charles Leclerc stormed to his first pole position since the 2022 Singapore Grand Prix during Friday’s (April 28) qualifying for Formula 1’s 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Leclerc usurped the Red Bull pair of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez to take the top spot while his Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz had to settle for fourth on the grid after struggling for competitive pace throughout Q3. This pole is Leclerc’s third consecutive first-place start on the streets of Baku, a streak dating back to 2021.
“For sure, I’m surprised,” Leclerc told Sky Sports’ Mark Webber after the session. “We came into the weekend thinking that it would be a great weekend if we are in front of Aston [Martin] and Mercedes in qualifying and at the end we are on pool. So it’s a really good surprise. We must not forget that our race car is maybe still behind the Red Bull, so it’s going to be difficult to keep the lead but that’s the target.”
The results of Friday’s qualifying session have determined the starting order for Sunday’s (April 30) Grand Prix, while Saturday (April 29) will see the debut of the newly-minted Sprint format, featuring a shootout qualifying session in the morning with the effectively standalone F1 Sprint later in the day.
The heat turned up early in Q3 when Verstappen and Leclerc set identical times of 1:40.445; Verstappen was scored ahead of Leclerc by setting his time prior to Leclerc’s. This was the first time – to the memory of the commentary team – that two cars had set identical qualifying times since the famous three-way tie in qualifying for the 1997 European Grand Prix at Jerez.
Leclerc’s early show of pace carried well throughout Q3 as the rest of the field seemed quiet compared to the three-way fight between himself, Verstappen and Perez.
George Russell was shockingly eliminated from Q2 in 11th place moments before the checkered flag. The Briton was sitting in 10th place behind Hamilton as the session came to close, when Piastri put on a last-ditch effort to improve his lap time, and did so by placing his McLaren in ninth, dropping Hamilton to 10th and Russell to elimination.
American rookie Logan Sargeant was eliminated from Q2 in 15th place after achieving the first progression beyond Q1 of his young career. With this effort, Sargeant became the first American driver to reach an F1 Q2 session since Scott Speed did so in the 2007 British Grand Prix
Eliminated from Q2 were:
11. George Russell
12. Esteban Ocon
13. Alex Albon
14. Valtteri Bottas
15. Logan Sargeant
Nyck De Vries triggered the first red flag of the day when he planted his AlphaTauri machine in the turn 3 barriers. The Dutchman was working on setting one of his early flying laps when he overcooked the entry of turn 3 and caught a double lockup on the front end. The red flag flew with 10 minutes remaining in the session and a totaled De Vries’ totaled AlphaTauri out of the session.
Pierre Gasly struck the turn 3 barrier not three full minutes after the session had resumed. Like De Vries, Gasly overcooked the corner entry, but slammed the right-front corner of his Alpine into the barrier rather than heading straight into the wall. Gasly, like De Vries, was left to retire from the session after totaling his machine. The two Q1 casualties will make up the final row of the grid for Sunday’s race.
After deliberating potential engine issues with his team early in the session, Haas driver Kevin Magnussen was instructed to slow down and abort a flying lap before being made to bring his car back to the pits with just over three minutes remaining. Magnussen briefly questioned the team’s call but was told that the risk of excessive damage to the power unit outweighed the potential of advancing the team into Q2.
Eliminated from Q1 were:
16. Zhou Guanyu
17. Nico Hulkneberg
18. Kevin Magnussen
19. Pierre Gasly
20. Nyck De Vries
The 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix will take place on Sunday, April 30 at 7 a.m. ET with coverage on ESPN. The weekend’s Sprint shootout and Sprint race will be contested on Satuday, April 29, at 4:30 a.m. ET and 9:30 a.m. ET, respectively.
About the author
Alex is the IndyCar Editor at Frontstretch, having initially joined as an entry-level contributor in 2021. He also Co-founded The Asia Cable, a publication focused on the international affairs and politics of the Asia-Pacific region, in 2023. With previous experience in China, Japan and Poland, Alex is particularly passionate about the international realm of motorsport and the politics that make the wheels turn - literally - behind the scenes.
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