Charles Leclerc did not rate his 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix pole-winning lap very highly but it was enough to get the job done early in Q3 of qualifying before all hell broke loose denying most drivers a second hot lap in Baku today.
Two weeks ago Leclerc was also supposed to start on pole until his Ferrari broke on the way to the grid, tomorrow the hope is he will actually get it started!
Speaking to reporters after claiming his ninth F1 career pole, Leclerc declared with smile in his eyes: “It was quite a shit lap I thought!
“There were like two or three corners where I did mistakes but, of course, I had the big tow from Lewis in the last sector which helped me a little bit. I didn’t expect us to be this competitive so I’m happy with how it went. The car felt OK but I feel Mercedes and Red Bull have a bit more from us so it will be difficult tomorrow.
“But overall I think we would have been there or thereabouts for pole without the slipstream, so it’s a good day. I did not expect to be as competitive as we were today but it’s like this, another pole, and I’m happy,” added Leclerc, who in two visits has never made it onto the Baku podium.
Later, in the team report, he added: “I am very happy. I tried to take things step-by-step and only push in Q3 today. It seems to have worked out pretty well. I had good references – I knew where I could gain and where I could push more, and that’s what I did.
After the first lap, I was reasonably happy but I did lose quite a bit at turns 4-5-6. On the second timed lap I was quite a lot stronger, but then the session was stopped by the red flag. But it’s pole anyway, so I am very happy with that.
Our race pace is not as strong as that of our competitors ahead of us in the championship, so I believe it will be very difficult to keep them behind in the race. The straights are very long here, and it is easy to overtake. We will give everything, and hopefully, we can have another positive surprise tomorrow,” added Leclerc.
The mood was somewhat darker on the other side of the Red garage, with Carlos Sainz smarting from missed opportunities and a late crash in the session; he will start from fifth.
He summed up: “A very frustrating qualifying for me again today.
“I am disappointed we couldn’t extract all the potential of the car due to the circumstances. I was improving my lap time on the last attempt when the AlphaTauri crashed in front of me. I saw the smoke from the lock-up but hoped he had continued.
“When I saw the crash it was too late and I ended up touching the barriers. At these speeds, the outcome could have been much worse, but the car seems to be ok.
“On the positive side, our pace was strong, even more than we expected before coming to Baku. Congrats to Charles for putting it on pole. Overall it’s a great result for the team.
“Now we’ll start preparing for the race and I will do my absolute best to recover tomorrow,” concluded Sainz who will line up fifth on the grid for his 124th Grand Prix start. (Additional reporting Agnes Carlier)