Friday and Saturday seem to be telling the same story a great deal at the moment. Ferrari do well in practice and look to be faster than Mercedes, who then pull out all the stops in qualifying. That happened again in Azerbaijan as Mercedes took 1-2 in qualifying and it’s Valtteri Bottas who will start on pole.
The day got off to a good start for Charles Leclerc as he finished fastest in the final practice session. He was 0.198 seconds ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel. Leclerc and Vettel were over a second ahead of the rest of the field.
Third fastest was Max Verstappen with the two Mercedes in fourth and fifth. Valtteri Bottas finished ahead of Lewis Hamilton but neither broke 1 minute 43 seconds while both Leclerc and Vettel were below 1 minute 42 seconds.
Sixth fastest was the Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat with Kevin Magnussen’s Haas in seventh. Alexander Albon took his Toro Rosso into eighth and could have perhaps finished higher but for oversteering around the castle. Ninth went to Sergio Perez in his Racing Point with Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo 10th.
Charles Leclerc may have had a good start to the day, but it didn’t last. It’s Valtteri Bottas who will be on pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after a chaotic qualifying session. Again, despite earlier Ferrari dominance it’s a Mercedes 1-2 on the grid tomorrow.
Lewis Hamilton had posted the fastest time in Q1, but he couldn’t keep that up in the final part of qualifying. The defending world champion lost time in the first sector and that allowed Bottas to set a faster time.
Sebastian Vettel was third-fastest and 0.302 seconds behind Bottas. Max Verstappen will start fourth in his Red Bull and was 0.574 seconds off the pace. The Racing Point of Sergio Perez made fifth place with Daniil Kvyat driving his Toro Rosso into sixth position on the grid. Lando Norris will be delighted with his seventh-place finish. Eighth and ninth spots were filled by the two Alfa Romeo’s with Antonio Giovinazzi ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.
For Leclerc it was a bit of nightmare as he crashed his Ferrari in Q2 and as a result will only be ninth on the grid on Sunday (he goes up a place because Antonio Giovinazzi has a ten-place grid penalty). He had qualified for the final qualifying session, but his car was too damaged to take part. His immediate reaction was simply “I am stupid” and later called himself “useless.” He needs to get that out of his system before tomorrow’s race.
The session had two lengthy stoppages, the first occurring after Robert Kubica crashed his Williams into the wall at Turn Eight. That led to his car cannoning into the barrier on the outside. The Baku street circuit is again proving difficult with the walls being hit several times. That included Sebastian Vettel who hit the inside wall at Turn Eight.
Post qualifying, Valtteri Bottas, who seems to have become the chief threat to Lewis Hamilton this season was delighted with taking pole position. He admitted that Ferrari have been “really strong” but Mercedes “did everything to take an advantage” after Leclerc crashed his car.
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton said that Ferrari had looked “incredibly quick” but the 1-2 for Mercedes was “a massively great result” for the Mercedes team. That’s particularly as unlike Ferrari, his team hasn’t had an upgrade this weekend.
Sebastian Vettel was disappointed at only finishing third-fastest as Ferrari were “expecting to have a better session.” That seems to be the story of their season so far and if Mercedes were to get another 1-2 here, then Ferrari really are in trouble. They are going to start on medium tyres tomorrow so it could be an interesting race on a tricky street circuit. After what’s happened on Friday and Saturday, another eventful race looks on the cards tomorrow. I’ll be back in May with more F1 blogs, till then enjoy your racing.