BAKU.- Valtteri Bottas clinched pole position for the Azerbaijan Formula One Grand Prix in Baku on Saturday ahead of his teammate Lewis Hamilton, giving Mercedes a one-two lockout at the front of the grid after Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who had been driving very fast all weekend, smashed spectacularly into the crash barriers during qualification, destroying his car’s front suspension.
Leclerc tried to slow down enough to make the tough Turn 8 but mistimed his braking during in the second part of qualifying.
“I am stupid, I am stupid, I’ll switch off everything,” a disconsolate Leclerc said between heavy breaths on his radio to his team back in the pit lane.
The Monegasque driver suffered the biggest qualifying upset so far this season when he ended up embedded deep inside the same flexible crash barrier that Williams’ Robert Kubica had smashed into during Q1.
Bottas stopped the clock just 0.059 seconds ahead of defending champion and standings leader Hamilton, while Sebastian Vettel tried to push his Ferrari hard in Q3 but the German four-time world champion could only manage to come third fastest, 0.302 seconds slower than Bottas despite the Italian team’s apparent pace advantage this season.
“I deserved what happened today. Very sad for what happened, but I deserve it. I’ve been stupid as I said on the radio. I’ve calmed down but I still think I’ve been stupid – this doesn’t change. I will push to learn from this and come back stronger and hopefully have a very good race tomorrow,» Leclerc said after returning from the crash site.
“But yeah I deserve it. I don’t want to say anything stupid, but looking at FP1, FP2, FP3 and Quali 1, the pole was possible today and I threw all the potential in the bin. I’m very disappointed and I’ll come back stronger from this.”
Leclerc will start the race in ninth place, having set a time good enough to make it through to Q3 before he crashed.
He also benefited from a grid drop by Giovinazzi, while the second McLaren of Carlos Sainz will rise up to the 10th spot on the grid.
Max Verstappen will start in fourth place in his Red Bull, his best-ever start at Baku, while Racing Point’s Sergio Perez is in fifth, Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat in sixth.