Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took a superb first pole position of 2023 in Qualifying for Sunday’s FIA Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, beating Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by almost two tenths of a second after nothing could separate the pair in opening runs of Q3.
Verstappen’s opening time in the final segment of Qualifying was swift 1:40.455, and that was matched, to the thousandth by Leclerc. However, the Red Bull driver claimed provisional pole by virtue of having set the time first.
But there was no denying the Ferrari driver in the final runs as a brave final lap gave him a 0.188s advantage over Verstappen, who said he had suffered with a warm-up issue on his last lap. Sergio Pérez, meanwhile, went quicker than Leclerc in the first sector on his final flyer, but the Mexican lost time later in the lap and was forced to settle for third.
Earlier, at the start of the one-hour session, Verstappen took an early Q1 lead with a lap of 1:41.887. That put him two tenths of a second ahead of Leclerc. Pérez, meanwhile, was down in fifth place after a tricky opening run that left with an opening time of 1:43.373.
There was no time for the Mexican to immediately improve, however, as the red flags were displayed soon after when Nyck de Vries hit the wall in Turn 3. The Dutch driver attempted to carry too much speed into the 90˚ left-hander and went straight into the barriers at the corner exit.
When the session eventually resumed, running was brief, as the red flags came out again almost immediately. Pierre Gasly also crashed in Turn 3 with the Alpine driver hitting the wall with the rear right side of his car. He was able to keep going to the next escape road, but with the barriers requiring repair the session had to be stopped.
When the action restarted, Pérez jumped to the top of the order with a 1:41.756. Verstappen bypassed that to take P1 with a lap of 1:41.398 before heading back to the garage. Leclerc slotted into third place ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and McLaren’s Lando Norris moved to fifth.
Pérez went for another run, but with little pressure coming from behind, the Mexican abandoned the attempt in the final sector and headed back to the pit lane.
Leclerc continued his attempt, however, and he took P1 with a time of 1:41.269, 0.129 ahead of Verstappen. Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso moved to third place and Peerez progressed in fourth ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell.
At the wrong end of the Q1 timesheet, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu was ruled out in P16 along with the Haas cars of Nico Hülkenberg and Kevin Magnussen and the unfortunate Gasly and de Vries.
Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso set the first solid time of Q2 with a 1:41.400, but Pérezbeat that time to take P1 with a lap of 1:41.131 before Verstappen slotted into P2, 0.062s behind his team-mate. Leclerc then took P1 with a lap of 1:41.037 and with just under four minutes remaining the Red Bulls headed back out on track for their final runs.
In the end, with no improvement coming in his final sector, Pérez chose to back out of his final run. Verstappen, though, went purple in all three sectors and took P1 with a lap of 1:40.822.
The shock elimination at the end of the session was Russell. The Mercedes driver was edged out of the final segment by team-mate Hamilton, by just 0.004s. Also out at the end of the middle segment were Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, Williams’ Alex Albon, Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and the second Williams of Logan Sargeant.
Pérez was the first on track at the start of Q3 and the Mexican opened his account with a lap of 1:40.563. Behind him Verstappen was quicker, and the champion claimed provisional pole with a lap of 1:40.445. There was nothing in terms of time to separate the Dutchman from Leclerc, however. The Ferrari driver crossed the line in an identical time, though Verstappen took P1 thanks to crossing the line first.
For the final runs Leclerc went out ahead of the two Red Bull drivers, with Pérez ahead of Verstappen on track.
Leclerc crossed the line in 1:40.203 and though Pérez went quicker than the Ferrari driver through the opening sector, he lost time in the middle of the track. It was a similar story for Verstappen. The champion lost time in the second sector and when he crossed the line he was just under two tenths off the Ferrari and on the front row. Pérez had to settle for a row two berth ahead of Sainz.
Fifth place in Qualifying went to Hamilton, with Alonso sixth. Seventh place went to Norris, while Yuki Tsunoda took an excellent eighth place for AlphaTauri. Lance Stroll was ninth for Aston Martin and the final top-10 place went to Oscar Piastri in the second McLaren.
2023 FIA Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:40.203
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:40.391 0.188
3 Sergio Pérez Red Bull Racing 1:40.495 0.292
4 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:41.016 0.813
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:41.177 0.974
6 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 1:41.253 1.050
7 Lando Norris 1:41.281 1.078
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:41.581 1.378
9 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:41.611 1.408
10 Oscar Piastri McLaren 1:41.611 1.408
11 George Russell Mercedes 1:41.654 1.451
12 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:41.798 1.595
13 Alex Albon Williams 1:41.818 1.615
14 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:42.259 2.056
15 Logan Sargeant Williams 1:42.395 2.192
16 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:42.642 2.439
17 Nico Hulkenberg Haas 1:42.755 2.552
18 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:43.417 3.214
19 Pierre Gasly Alpine 1:44.853 4.650
20 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri 1:55.282 15.079