Charles Leclerc has upstaged defending champion Max Verstappen to take pole for tomorrow’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix at Baku.
Leclerc and Verstappen set identical times on their first runs in Q3, only for the Monagasque driver to go one better on his final run just before the chequered flag fell.
As expected, the Streets of Baku were unforgiving to those who wandered offline, with Nyck de Vries and Pierre Gasly among the casualties in Q1, separate crashes triggering two red flags. It was the worst-case scenario for Gasly and Alpine, with the team having had to repair fire damage from the earlier practice session even to make it to the track.
Haas’s Kevin Magnussen was another driver to suffer in Q1; mechanical difficulties forced him to pull into the lane without setting a competitive time.
The two other drivers who failed to progress were Niko Hulkenberg and Guan Yu Zhou.
Q2 produced some cleaner running, with Mercedes’ George Russell the shock elimination, having run wide on his final run. Just .004 seconds separated Russell in 11th and teammate Lewis Hamilton in 10th, the former missing Q3 by the skin of his teeth.
Joining Russell with an early exit from Q2 were Esteban Ocon, Alex Albon, Valtteri Bottas and Log Sargeant.
The first flying runs in Q3 saw Verstappen set a 1:40.445, with Leclerc following through to set an identical time just moments later. Verstappen sat in provisional pole, having set his time first, making for a climactic conclusion to the session.
Both drivers were able to better their times on their final runs, with Leclerc going two-tenths faster to claim his third consecutive pole at the venue.
Leclerc will have Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez starting behind from grid box three, while Carlos Sainz begins directly behind the defending champion from fourth.
Two defending champions lockout row three, with Hamilton pipping Fernando Alonso by eight one-hundredths of a second for fifth.
McLaren has emerged as solid mid-field contenders once again following their early season slump, Lando Norris putting himself seventh and rookie Oscar Piastri impressing to make Q3 to qualify tenth.
Yuki Tsunoda, eighth, and Lance Stroll, ninth, round out the qualifying top 10.
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix starts at 11.00 pm tomorrow, but before that, Saturday brings a further qualifying session for the following Sprint Race.