Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc threw up a stunning performance to clinch pole position from a dominant Max Verstappen after a chaotic day of Grand Prix Qualifying in Azerbaijan.
Ferrari had a disappointing start to the season, but the four-week break after the Australian GP clearly gave the prancing horses enough time to make changes to benefit them at the Baku City Circuit.
The Monegasque driver set an identical time to the current world championship leader, Verstappen in the Red Bull, on their first runs in the final part of Qualifying.
Leclerc then improved his time and secured a lap time of 1:40.203 to beat the Dutchman by almost 0.2s, with Sergio Perez a further tenth back in third.
Leclerc will now start from the front of the grid in Sunday’s Grand Prix, but not before the first Sprint qualifying of the season and a shortened race on Saturday – marking the first weekend featuring Formula 1’s new format.
Charles Leclerc spoke after the session and said he was surprised by his performance ahead of the Azerbaijan GP but is looking forward to keeping the Red Bulls behind him on Sunday.
Speaking to reporters, he said: “For sure, I’m surprised – we came into the weekend thinking that it would be a great weekend if we were in front of Aston Martin and Mercedes in qualifying.
“And at the end, we are on pole, so it’s a good surprise.
“We must not forget that our car is probably behind the Red Bull, so it’s going to be difficult to keep the lead.
“But that’s the target (winning the Grand Prix).”
He then told Sky Sports F1: “We still have another qualifying tomorrow (for the Sprint) so I hope it will be four in a row and then we have the races which are much more important. But I believe we will struggle a bit more because I still think Red Bull is a step ahead.
“We don’t have new bits on the car, we just have a rear wing adapted to this. I think we have done a great job with the setup since Australia, we found something on that. How much is it better? It’s very difficult to say for now, I think we will know a bit more on Sunday.
“I can also say the lap today was really, really good and really on the limit and everything I wanted to do I did it and there wasn’t much in it. So I’m extremely happy.”