Charles Leclerc beat both Red Bulls again and went fastest of all in the first ever Formula 1 Sprint Shootout and will start the Azerbaijan Sprint Race from pole.
With new Soft tyres bolted to the remaining ten cars that contested SQ3, the eight-minute-session was underway, and in the end, it was Charles Leclerc who ended up fastest of all, despite a last minute accident while trying to improve, crashing into the wall at Turn 5, ruining his teammate, Carlos Sainz’s final hot lap.
Before delving into the details of the Sprint Shootout, and as a quick summary on its rules; the Sprint Shootout will be divided into three sessions, SQ1 (12 minutes), SQ2 (10 minutes) and SQ3 (8 minutes), with new tyre mandatory in throughout the Shootout, new Mediums for SQ1 and SQ2 and new Softs for SQ3.
The timings mean that drivers might get the change to have up to two timed laps in SQ1, but only one in SQ2 and SQ3, which increases the chances of an unpredictable outcome.
That meant that drivers that used more Soft tyres in Qualifying on Friday and ran out of them will not take part in SQ3 if they reach it.
For the second day in a row, both Red Bull drivers, Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez had no answer for Leclerc and Ferrari around the streets of the Azerbaijan capital.
Perez was the fastest of the Red Bull pair and was second fastest, 0.147s slower than Leclerc while Verstappen was third fastest, 0.143s behind the Mexican.
Leclerc: It was tricky with the Soft tyre
Leclerc reflected on his Sprint Shootout in parc ferme, he said: “With the soft it was a little tricky because we hadn’t driven on the tyres since yesterday. The conditions are very different, it was behaving much differently.
“The rear overheated on the second lap, I tried to push a bit more to gain some lap time and lost it in turn five,” he said of his incident.
“It’s a shame if Carlos was improving. But I’m very happy with the first lap and we now need to confirm that in the race.”
As for his strategy for the Sprint Race, Leclerc said: “We will go for it. We need to be realistic and until now we have been on the back foot in the race.
“The Red Bull seems to be a step ahead. Let’s see how it is, hopefully we will get a good surprise. I think we improved the car quite a bit but today we will have more of an answer of where we are compared to them.
“I will do everything for it. Ferrari needs to be on top and I will do everything to win,” the Ferrari ace concluded.
SQ3: Leclerc gets a bit lucky
Make no mistake, Leclerc was worthy of his top position at the end of Sprint Shootout, but he was lucky as he had put in a banker lap, good enough to keep both Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen behind, as his crash at Turn 5 trying to improve would’ve ended in tears otherwise.
Leclerc clocked a 1:41.697 to go fastest of all, and was 0.147s faster than Perez who was second fastest, beating his double F1 Champion teammate, Verstappen, third almost three tenths off the pace.
George Russell recovered nicely after his Qualifying woes on Friday, and went fourth fastest in the Mercedes, 0.555s slower than Leclerc.
Carlos Sainz who lost out on chance to improve following Leclerc’s accident, will start the Sprint Race from fifth in the grid. How much he would’ve improved without his teammate’s incident is anyone’s guess, but the Spaniard was in no form to enter the top three.
Lewis Hamilton ended the Shootout sixth fastest, 0.250s slower than his teammate, while a superb Alex Albon took the seventh fastest time in the Williams, over three tenths slower than his compatriot.
Up next were the Aston Martin pair, Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll, eighth and ninth respectively, only 0.054s separating them, as the British team suffered from DRS problems still.
Lando Norris was tenth fastest, but did not register any time in SQ3 as he ran out of new Soft tyres after using all his allocation in qualifying on Friday.
SQ2: Stroll towed into SQ3
With Logan Sargeant’s Williams cleared from the track, the Sprint Shootout was resumed after some delay for the second session, SQ2, that would run for ten minutes, adding more pressure on the drivers to get their new Medium tyres in the proper operating window.
Drivers were lining up in the pitlane to make sure they hit the track as soon as the green lights were on to put in those laps.
Soon the Yellow Flag came out in sector two, caused by Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg who locked up going into Turn 7, just missing the barriers, but reversed back onto the track and soon the track was green.
Carlos Sainz caused another Yellow flags at the end of the session locking up at Turn 15, ending up in the run-off area, once again showing he is struggling with his SF-23.
Max Verstappen lead the way out of SQ2, 0.083s faster than Charles Leclerc on second, while Serio Perez was third fastest , 0.508s off the pace of his teammate.
The first driver not to make the cut into SQ3 was Oscar Piastri who will line up 11th on the Sprint Race grid, missing out by 0.032s to his teammate Lando Norris who was tenth fastest.
Nico Hulkenberg was 12th fastest in the Haas 0.379s behind Piastri, while Esteban Ocon was 13th fastest for Alpine, 0.282s behind the German.
Kevin Magnussen was 14th fastest, with Logan Sargeant 15th. The American crashed in SQ1 but the banker lap he had was good enough to be in SQ2.
Lance Stroll, suffering from DRS failure, made it into SQ3 credit to some great teamwork from Fernando Alonso who towed the Canadian up to eighth fastest time in SQ2. The Spaniard was fifth.
All the drivers head out on the mandatory new Medium tyres, and raced to put in a banker lap, as it was tricky to get the yellow-banded tyres up to the required temperature in such a short time.
Early on, Oscar Piastri brought out a brief Yellow flag locking up going into Turn 3 and soon Nyck de Vries did the same at the same location. No damage for both though and the session was not stopped.
With 25 seconds remaining from the session, Williams’ Logan Sargeant brought out the Red Flags as he crashed his FW45 at Turn 15 and hit the wall destroying the rear right side of his car.
As a result, Charles Leclerc was fastest in SQ1, with Max Verstappen second fastest, 0.468s behind, while Lewis Hamilton was third fastest 0.273s further down the road.
The Alfa Romeo pair, Zhou Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas were he first to be eliminated, and will start the Sprint Race from 16th and 17th respectively.
Yuki Tsunoda was 18th fastest, so his lack of new Soft tyres wouldn’t have made any difference. His best time was 1:45.436, and was on a fast lap when the Red Flag came out ruining his chances.
Alpine and Pierre Gasly continued their troublesome weekend in Baku, the Frenchman out from SQ1, with Nyck de Vries down in 20th.
Despite crashing out, Sargeant made it into SQ2 as his registered time before his accident was good enough to make it through.