Leclerc tops shootout, claims pole for sprint
BAKU, Azerbaijan — Charles Leclerc doubled down on his pole position in Friday qualifying at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as he also took pole in the inaugural sprint shootout session on Saturday, which will set the grid for the sprint race later the same day.
Leclerc secured pole despite crashing at Turn 5 on his final attempt and will line up ahead of the two Red Bulls of Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen. Verstappen, who qualified ahead of his Red Bull teammate Perez on Friday, appeared to struggle for rear grip throughout the final session of the shootout.
George Russell took fourth place for Mercedes — a big improvement on his 11th place in Friday qualifying — as Carlos Sainz in fifth place was unable to complete his final lap in Q3 due to the yellow flags that came out for Leclerc’s accident.
Under F1’s new sprint race format, which is debuting in Baku this weekend, Saturday is essentially its own mini event within the grand prix weekend. The sprint shootout sets the grid for the sprint race which, unlike the previous format, has no bearing on the starting order for Sunday’s grand prix.
The top eight drivers will score championship points in the 17-lap sprint later on Saturday, with the top eight drivers scoring in descending order 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
Lewis Hamilton will start sixth in the sprint race ahead of an impressive performance by Alex Albon, who hauled his Williams up to seventh on the grid.
The two Aston Martins of Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll were eighth and ninth, ahead of Lando Norris who was unable to take part in final session of the sprint shootout because he used all his soft tyres, which are mandatory for Q3 in the shootout, during Friday qualifying.
Norris’ McLaren teammate Oscar Piastri missed out on a place in Q3 by 0.032s and will start the sprint in 11th ahead of the Haas of Nico Hulkenberg in 12th.
Esteban Ocon was 13th fastest ahead of the second Haas of Kevin Magnussen, with Logan Sargeant qualifying 15th after making the cut for Q2 despite crashing out of Q1 on his final attempt. The American rookie hit the barriers hard on the exit of Turn 15, causing big damage to the rear of his car that will need to be fixed in the four-hour break ahead of the sprint race.
A late red flag for Sargeant’s accident in Q1 meant the bottom five in that session did not get a chance to complete their final attempts, leaving Zhou Guanyu, Valtteri Bottas, Yuki Tsunoda, Pierre Gasly and Nyck de Vries at the back of the grid for the sprint race.
Gasly, who had a nightmare Friday with his car catching fire in free practice and a crash in qualifying, only completed three laps before returning to the pits with a suspected exhaust leak.