Leclerc crashes but takes pole in F1's first sprint shootout
Charles Leclerc claimed the first ever Formula 1 sprint shootout pole at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, despite a late skirmish with the wall to beat Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen.
A short, sharp ‘sprint shootout’ session was clearly significantly more appealing than the FP2 sessions we’ve seen on the previous sprint weekends. But there’s still the feeling that it is not differentiated enough from regular qualifying.
In Leclerc’s first effort in the eight minutes long SQ3 session. A time of 1m41.697s put him on provisional pole, and he then on his second attempt he 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 and make it to parc ferme.
The yellow flag for Leclerc’s crash only disrupted his teammate Carlos Sainz, who fell from fourth on the provisional grid to fifth behind George Russell’s Mercedes
Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen start second and third for Red Bull, Perez outqualifying his champion team-mate in a straight fight for the first time this season. Verstappen made a minor error on his first run and couldn’t improve by enough to get on the front row on his next flying lap, as drivers stayed out for cool-down laps rather than pitting for fresh tyres under the shortened and tyre limited new sprint qualifying format.
Alex Albon qualified a sensational seventh for Williams behind Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, and the Aston Martins of Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll, who were grappling with DRS problems. Lance Stroll was ninth quickest, while Lando Norris could not run in SQ3 having had 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.
Logan Sargeant crashed after coming upon the slower-moving Ferraris in Q1, causing a red flag that curtailed that segment early and left Sargeant 15th on the grid, having made Q2 but unable to take part.
Haas got both cars into Q2, with Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen either side of leading Alpine runner Esteban Ocon as they took 12th and 14th.
Pierre Gasly’s awful weekend continued with an exhaust leak that meant he starts only 19th. And was only spared from the bottom of the pile by Nyck de Vries. The Dutchman endured a troubled run, once more going deep at Turn 3 but this time, avoided the wall and managed to reverse out.