Ferrari needed a boost after a tough start to the Formula 1 season and Charles Leclerc provided it with a surprise pole position at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Friday.
The 25-year-old has had more success as a recording artist than as a racer so far in 2023, with his piano composition a streaming hit while he has taken only six points from three races.
“The whole team needed it,” the elated Monegasque told reporters after qualifying in Baku for Sunday’s race.
“It is part of our job in Formula 1, you need to deal with rumours and pressure. But it is obviously sometimes a bit more difficult to perform under those circumstances.”
Ferrari, the sport’s oldest and most successful team, drew a complete blank in Australia this month and also failed in a bid to have Carlos Sainz’s post-race penalty reviewed. Leclerc spun out in Melbourne after contact with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll.
The announced exit of some senior staff has generated more headlines and speculation has swirled about the driver’s own future at Maranello and possible interest from Mercedes.
Friday’s session, with Saturday now fully devoted to a standalone sprint, ended Red Bull’s 100% pole record for the season and brought Leclerc an unexpected third pole in a row in Baku.
“The lap today was really, really good and really on the limit. Everything I wanted to do, I did it,” Leclerc said.
No upgrades for the SF-23, just setup tweaks
His first flying lap in the final phase was exactly the same time as Max Verstappen’s, with Red Bull’s championship leader ahead by virtue of having gone first. The Ferrari driver left nothing on the table second time around.
Leclerc said his car had no upgrade, other than a rear wing adapted to the characteristics of the track, but setup tweaks had worked.
“I think we’ve done a great job with the setup since Australia, we found something on that,” he added. “How much is it better, its very difficult to say for now. I think we’ll know a bit more on Sunday.”
Qualifying has always been his strong point, with nine poles last year but only three wins.
He has lined up third, second and seventh so far this year and his main target for the weekend had been to be ahead of Mercedes and Aston Martin.
As a man from Monaco, it is no surprise Leclerc is at home on street circuits hemmed in by walls and metal fences. Of his 19 career poles, two have been at home and two in Singapore.