Azerbaijan GP qualifying: Charles Leclerc beats Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen to pole amid crashes

Charles Leclerc claimed a surprise second straight F1 2021 pole position at the Azerbaijan GP as the Ferrari driver outshone title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in a frenetic qualifying that was filled with crashes.

A gripping hour-long session on the Baku streets saw a record-equalling four red flags after driver shunts – the last of which sealing pole for Leclerc, who set a soaring pace with his first lap in Q3 to head the field.

“I did not expect to be as competitive as we were today,” said Leclerc, who was also on pole in Monaco only for his end-of-qualifying crash to deny him the chance of defending it in the race.

Lewis Hamilton was second behind Leclerc at the time of Yuki Tsunoda’s crash into the barriers, as the world champion managed to find form in his Mercedes after struggling right through Azerbaijan’s practice sessions.

Leclerc’s 1:41.218 was aided by a tow on the long start-finish straight and was 0.2s faster than Hamilton.

“This is such a monumental result for us because we’ve been struggling like you couldn’t believe all weekend,” admitted Hamilton. “It has been the biggest challenge in a long time. It has been a bit of a disaster.”

A frustrated Verstappen was a tenth slower than Hamilton in third as Red Bull failed to deliver on their practice promise, with the championship leading Dutchman feeling on consecutive Saturdays that red flags denied him pole.

Pierre Gasly claimed a career-best fourth on the grid for AlphaTauri, ahead of Carlos Sainz,

More to follow…

When is Sunday’s Grand Prix?

Lights out for the high-speed Azerbaijan GP is at 1pm, live on Sky Sports F1. Extensive build-up begins at 11.30am.

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