Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Baku City Circuit, 2021

Leclerc takes pole again as five drivers crash in qualifying

2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix qualifying

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Charles Leclerc will start on pole for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix ahead of Lewis Hamilton after a chaotic qualifying session which saw four red flag stoppages.

Leclerc’s second consecutive pole position was secured following a double accident in the closing minutes of qualifying when Yuki Tsunoda and Carlos Sainz Jnr both hit the barriers at turn three in separate incidents.

Lewis Hamilton will start second on the grid, ahead of championship rival Max Verstappen with Pierre Gasly fourth.


The first session of qualifying had barely begun when the red flags began to fly as Lance Stroll hit the wall on the exit of the troublesome turn 15. With the front right wheel hanging broken off his Aston Martin, Stroll pulled off the road as the session was stopped, dooming him to start from the rear of the grid for tomorrow’s race.

The session was eventually resumed with 14 minutes remaining with only Charles Leclerc having been able to set a representative lap time.

George Russell was able to join the session after Williams completed a power unit change in his care following problems in final practice.

Max Verstappen set the early pace ahead of Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez and the two Ferraris of Carlos Sainz Jnr and Charles Leclerc.

But before most of the field had been able to set a time, the session was stopped for a second time when Antonio Giovinazzi became the second driver to crash at turn 15 in an almost identical accident to Stroll’s.

Lando Norris failed to enter the pit lane immediately when the red flags flew for the second time and continued to start another lap. The stewards announced he would be investigated for failing to adhere to red flag procedures after the session.

When the session resumed for a second time, Lewis Hamilton was able to draw more pace from his Mercedes for the first time to set the quickest time of the session.

With Giovinazzi and Stroll both eliminated, the question became which driver would be knocked out along with the two Haas drivers of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mezepin.

George Russell was able to improve to 11th to put him safely through to Q2, while Lando Norris was within a tenth of falling into the drop zone. Ultimately, it would be Nicholas Latifi who would be eliminated with the lowly Haas cars.

Drivers eliminated in Q1

16Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’43.128
17Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari1’44.158
18Nikita MazepinHaas-Ferrari1’44.238
19Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-FerrariNo time
20Lance StrollAston Martin-MercedesNo time

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There were no risks taken by any of the teams as the second session of qualifying began, with soft tyres chosen across the board.

Sebastian Vettel almost collided with Sergio Perez in the pit lane as the pair left the garage, much to the Red Bull driver’s bemusement.

Perez was able to put his annoyance aside to set the fastest lap of the early running, ahead of the two Ferraris and team mate Verstappen.

Lewis Hamilton’s first effort put him with four thousandths of a second of Perez at the top of the times, before Verstappen improves to go quickest, mere thousandths faster himself. Yuki Tsunoda went fourth fastest in the AlphaTauri, further demonstrating the team’s pace.

In the final minutes, the session was halted when Daniel Ricciardo crashed into the wall on the exit of turn three, bringing out the red flags. That ruined Sebastian Vettel’s final lap, dooming him to be eliminated from qualifying in 11th place, to the Aston Martin driver’s audible frustration.

Esteban Ocon was also eliminated in 12th, with the crashed Ricciardo in 13th. Kimi Raikkonen was knocked out of the session in 14th, with George Russell the last driver in 15th.

With only a minute-and-a-half remaining in the session, the session was not restarted.

Drivers eliminated in Q2

11Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes1’42.224
12Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’42.273
13Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes1’42.558
14Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’42.587
15George RussellWilliams-Mercedes1’42.758

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The battle for pole initially looked like a straight shootout between the two Red Bulls and Hamilton’s Mercedes.

But after the first flying laps, Leclerc who took provisional pole. The Ferrari took advantage of a slipstream down the long pit straight to lap three tenths faster than Verstappen, Sainz and Norris after

Mercedes chose to wait to set their first competitive lap times, with Hamilton managing the second fastest time, just over two tenths behind Leclerc.

AlphaTauri were the last team to set a lap time, with Pierre Gasly jumping to fourth and Tsunoda in eighth place as the rest of the field set back out for their second and final runs of the session.

As the final runs began, Bottas ground to a near-halt in a bid to force other drivers to pass him so he could get a tow, causing a traffic jam. Eventually, the drivers began their final laps before qualifying came to an abrupt end.

Tsunoda arrived too fast into turn three and crashed into the barriers. Meanwhile Carlos Sainz Jnr locked up under braking for the same corner and spun his Ferrari, collecting the barriers in a separate accident.

The red flags came out for the fourth and final time, guaranteeing that Leclerc would be on pole, just as they had in Monaco when the Ferrari driver crashed.

Hamilton secured a front row start with second on the grid, ahead of championship rival Verstappen. Pierre Gasly will start fourth for AlphaTauri, with Sainz fifth and Norris sixth – albeit under investigation. Sergio Perez will start seventh on the grid ahead of Yuki Tsunoda. Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas will round out the top ten starters.

Top ten in Q3

1Charles LeclercFerrari1’41.218
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’41.450
3Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’41.563
4Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda1’41.565
5Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’41.576
6Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’41.747
7Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda1’41.917
8Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda1’42.211
9Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault1’42.327
10Valtteri BottasMercedes1’42.659

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2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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94 comments on “Leclerc takes pole again as five drivers crash in qualifying”

  1. I have to say that as crazy as it was, it was not an enjoyable session. I’d have hoped that the drivers themselves would separate themselves in terms of lap times rather than the tow and red flags. Should make for an interesting race though.

    1. Time for a rule.

      Stroll is the first to crash but starts in front of Giovinazzi who crashed too and spent more time on track.

      Riccardo crashes, red flags the session and in doing so aborts Vettel’s lap that might made him through Q3.

      The sport robbed itself the most exciting fight for pole position for races.

      1. @jeff1s Agree with such a rule. It would surely calm people down.

  2. 25% of the grid couldn’t finish quali without crashing out… Smaller teams should just drive a safe race and pick up the scraps at this point. No point in going hard and be the nth driver to crash out.

    1. Unfortunately I think the amount of talent it takes to go not super hard and not crash is about the same as it takes to go sort of hard and not crash. 900 hp car the size of a minivan on a street circuit is not easy.

  3. Stop sleeping on Leclerc. This guy is just superb in qualifying. How could you guys put Sainz in the pole position fight without including Leclerc?

    1. Barry Bens (@barryfromdownunder)
      5th June 2021, 14:54

      Because he keeps crashing, even though he has been on the grid for years now.

      1. Obviously it’s easier to have a car that’s half a second faster than the rest of the grid if your aim is to to take it cautiously and still end up on top. Leclerc doesn’t have that.

      2. Also Leclerc is one of the few drivers who didn’t get exposed today…

    2. @krichelle I don’t think that people are sleeping on Charles. You often see him included in the cream of the crop along with Lewis and Max. I’m a fan myself. He might be the fastest qualifier of them all, but the consistency just isn’t there quite yet.

    3. Super qualifier indeed. His cold-blooded instinct over a single lap is great.

    4. @krichelle It’s mostly this site always focusing on Sainz and not on Leclerc

  4. I just want to know, how did tsunoda crash?? He and gasly just finished their flying laps and were on their in-laps

    1. Wasn’t he going for another flying lap?

      1. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
        5th June 2021, 14:58

        He was going for 2 successive flying laps by the looks of it

    2. They’d done their best laps without traffic, done a complete recharge lap while everyone else was on their out lap, then went for a second push lap along with everyone else.

    3. Guess that makes some sense now…

  5. Also, really tough for Valtteri, Carlos and Max (as well as others) for being robbed of their second Q3 runs for the second time in a row.

    1. Bottas had to tow Hamilton on banker lap. Then he got interrupted on his turn.

      Hard luck for Bottas the last two weekends.

      1. I don’t think Bottas was getting a turn in the tow, was he?

        Hamilton still behind him in the queue and in no rush to move ahead when Bottas backed the field up.

      2. @slotopen If Bottas didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no luck at all.

        But really unfair to see the team didn’t even bother to try and engineer a tow for him and just let him out first. Almost sad. After blaming him for the Monaco pit stop and all the other put-downs like calling him wingman etc, it’s really difficult to like the Mercedes team. Almost unpleasant.

    2. Bottas is getting paid handsomely to help Hamilton and put his own interests aside, but it’s still a bit unfortunate for him as a driver to not even get a chance to have a solid lap for himself. Still, Mercedes knew that was a possibility at a track like this and apparently having Hamilton in P2 was worth it. They’re probably right, too.

      1. Bottas is getting paid handsomely to help Hamilton and put his own interests aside

        Is that a joke?!? So was Barrichello, but nobody considered such reason when he gave… initially… a small helping hand to Schumacher in 2002. Schumacher at least gave Barrichello his win back in Hungary and USA… HAM/Mercedes still owes 1 win to BOT.

        1. @mg1982 the thing is, Berger had a similar situation at McLaren, where he was ordered to let Senna through for one race victory early in a season, with Senna then ostensibly “returning the favour” later in the season. However, in Berger’s case, he actually felt that it was a coded insult from Senna – basically, that Senna was implying to Berger that “you’ll only be able to win if I let you do so” and that, if anything, it was more of a humiliating actions.

          There were some parallels with Barrichello at Ferrari too, with the sense that both Schumacher and the team were implying to Barrichello that it was only if they consented to him winning that he’d be allowed a win – again, in some ways it came across as a form of public humiliation.

        2. @mg1982 He’ll get payback when he’s fighting for the WDC and Hamilton’s out of it.

          1. @scbriml He’ll be out as soon as he is no longer needed as wingman

  6. Leclerc got lucky, but whether he can convert pole into a race win is another matter.

    1. Hamilton is gonna struggle all the way to P1 tomorrow even though nobody expected this!

      1. @paeschli, had to laugh at that one, bit lame maybe but also, might well be true.

        1. At least they will have worked hard for it, thanks to the team getting this win (while Bottas probably gets crashed into such is his luck?)

          1. Worst thing is that Bottas might get thrown out for Russel after all his sacrifices @bosyber

          2. The thing is, if bottas is already out on paper, I don’t see why he bothers helping hamilton, he can drive as fast as he wants, challenge him etc., I don’t think it’d be wise for merc to change drivers mid-season, and they probably can’t either, russel is under contract.

          3. @esploratore Merc can easily put Russel in their car as a replacement for Bottas. Nearly every contract that exists between intelligent beings have escape clauses. Even that thing you sign with your mobile, internet, car loan, etc. have escape clauses.

            In regards to other reasons why they couldn’t change mid-season… there are no other reasons, to my knowledge. There is a maximum number of drivers allowed per year in the car, though, regardless of situation and I believe that number is 3. As far as I know, Merc haven’t replaced Bottas for any practice sessions so far? That leaves two open slots should Merc desire a change.

    2. He already won against Hamilton on a 1 v 1 in 2019 when Hamilton put in the most intense pressure I have ever seen since 2010. Leclerc can fight Hamilton and Verstappen, but can his car do the same? It will be a cracker tomorrow with these 3 on the front.

    3. He’ll need more luck to win this one… as it’s not Monaco. Plus, Ferrari this year seems to be worse in race trim than Quali so, I don’t expect LEC to finish higher than 3rd.

      1. Ferrari were chewing up their tyres on the race simulation runs. I expect Leclerc to pit first (amongst the front runners) even if he manages to stay ahead.

  7. This will go down as one of the coolest, least predictable qualifying sessions in F1 history. Love it! I’m not a Ferrari fan but bravo to them for penertrating the predicted Mercedes/RedBull fight..2 races in a row

    1. Jerez ‘97 begs to differ

      1. Jerez 97 could also have seen another driver on pole if it weren’t for off track excursions and subsequent flag waving.

        1. RandomMallard (@)
          5th June 2021, 16:22

          So could today actually. If there hadn’t been a million and one red flags.

          1. Indeed, 4 red flags was a crazy amount, 2 almost consecutive in q1.

  8. Neil (@neilosjames)
    5th June 2021, 15:06

    I have a love/hate relationship with sessions like that. I can’t stand the constant interruptions and delays caused by reds, and I’m no fan of drivers losing out through no fault of their own, but it’s nice to see a bit of unpredictability. And the outcome is pretty nice for a neutral, too – four teams in the top four (and five in the top six), the big two teams’ second drivers down the grid and needing to fight back. Should make for an interesting race.

    1. @neilosjames Exactly my thoughts. The craziness can be fun, but I just find myself wishing we had a fair fight mainly between Charles, Lewis and Max. That’s all I need!

    2. I’m no fan of drivers losing out through no fault of their own

      @neilosjames That’s just a part of the sport & is something your never really going to be able to get rid of.

      I think back to when they tried single lap qualifying in 2003-2005 a lot of people felt it would be fairer as drivers couldn’t get hindered by traffic. However you then had things like circuit improvements through the session or changeable weather which hurt some drivers & helped others depending on when they ran.

      And if you give drivers who’s laps get affected another go that also creates some unfairness as some may have new tyres while others don’t or some may improve on that run while they wouldn’t have with the lap that got interrupted.

      Drivers coming across yellow flags or sessions been stopped like today can be annoying & can impact drivers laps/starting positions, But at the end of the day I think it’s just part of the sport & probably the fairest way of doing it.

    3. I have to agree. Much as I love seeing driver pushing and being punished for mistakes, it’s a shame that it ruins everyone else’s laps too. I would still take this kind of qualifying session over another easy Mercedes 1-2 and tracks with huge run off areas.

  9. I think turn 3 has earned the right to be named. Perhaps the Baku Blackhole?

    1. RandomMallard (@)
      5th June 2021, 15:24

      And turn 15 @velocityboy. Seen as it is next to the Baku Philharmonic Hall or whatever it’s called I propose we name it the Philharmonic Wall.

      1. Like both those suggestions @velocityboy, @randommallard, let’s put in efforts to promote those any chance/crash we get!

      2. @randommallard it is a tad too long to say, though, is it not?

  10. A super well earned pole position for Charles.

  11. Criminal that Lando gets no penalty! 😖

    1. Why? That pit entry is dangerous, he was going past at just the wrong time.

      1. Had it been Vettel it would be a 5 place grid penalty.

    2. Spoke too soon, Pat.

      1. It’s like being indecisive about a penalty/no penalty until VAR decides it.

    3. Three place grid drop for Lando. I think it was marginal though – not sure he could have slowed safely in time to make the pits.

  12. In the end of Q3 there was a strange moment when Bottas got caught without a tow on his preparation lap, he slowed down dramatically, Leclerc was the first of the queue to catch him, and he got by Bottas.

    Why on earth would Leclerc do that ? Does anybody understand it ? It seemed to make much more sense to hold station, and if Bottas was intent on ruining his and everyone’s prep lap, all the better for Leclerc who was sitting on pole.

    Of course, at some point the cars behind would have overtaken both cars, but at least in that case Leclerc wouldn’t have been promoted to first in the queue.

    1. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
      5th June 2021, 16:06

      Because there was a delta time to be followed this weekend between 2 safety car lines. If drivers came under investigation for driving too slowly, Leclerc had the most to lose since he was on pole.
      And he probably knew in the back of his mind anyway that Bottas wouldn’t be on pole even with a tow.

    2. I don’t know if his delta time forced him to overtake but also Leclerc was first out in every run every session.
      I think he just didn’t want to be interrupted and that was definitely the way to go today.

      1. Indeed, seemed like in 2019, Leclerc was just on it and knew it, didn’t stick around to play games but got out and went for it; got pole out of it @roadrunner; I’d say it is part of what makes him such a joy to see in F1.

        1. You are probably right, both. I don’t think it was a question of delta. Leclerc started the lap very far from Bottas, so there was a lot of room to play with between Bottas missing his delta for sure and Leclerc risking missing his. He must just have thought that it was better to optimize his prep lap than to look for a tow.

          It still sounds a bit candid to me, you are supposed to eek any possible advantage because you know the opposition will. That was certainly not very Schumacher-esque. But don’t get me wrong, I like Leclerc’s attitude a lot.

    3. Ras has a good answer to your question, one I hadn’t considered. My thought was also that he was on pole, so if he leads the train he can control the speed of his opponents.

  13. Qualy in Baku is a all about the tow and some luck with red flags this year. Bit of a lottery unfortunately

  14. I’m a big fan of Verstappen, but it just seems that Leclerc and Hamilton are far better at capitalising on opportunities in qualifying. Well, let’s see how things pan out tomorrow.

    1. Meh, I feel if the 2nd run in q3 is aborted because of a red flag luck becomes a bigger factor. Especially in circuits where the tow is half a second laptime

    2. Gabriel Souza
      5th June 2021, 19:11

      He messed up his 1st sector in Q3 badly so i kind of agree, but since even not being as fast as he should he still beating his solid teammate easily everytime, i cant be that mad.

    3. That was the team not letting him use Perez as a tow-truck

  15. Another strong performance by Ricciardo.

    1. Nasty little snide remark by a nasty little person

      1. Your poor attempt at characterising someone you’ve never met won’t undo Ricciardo’s embarrassing performance (again). Get over it.

    2. If a driver doesn’t bin it occasionally he is not trying hard enough IMHO. Reference MV P3.

    3. Cristiano Ferreira
      5th June 2021, 23:30

      I agree with IVAYLO

      McLaren should ditch Ricciardo at this point and try to poach Gasly or Russell while there’s still some time left to recover, or else they can kiss the 3rd place in WCC goodbye.

      Ricciardo IS SANDBAGGING the whole team.

      1. This is insane to see, ricciardo was a strong driver, it was easy to say for me that red bull should’ve replaced gasly or albon even faster than they did, but ricciardo, who performed very well in the past, after only a few races, sounds excessive, however at the moment of the crash he was outside, so he had to risk, not much to lose, and I think he was satisfied about how fp had gone, so this is a case of don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.

  16. Maybe its time that if you crash and retire then you don’t qualify full stop.

    1. @slowmo last in the session is maybe more fitting

      1. @balue why not make qualifying actually mean you have to actually qualify again. See how many teams put up with drivers binning their cars in qualifying then.

  17. I honestly think that the noise about punishing a driver who crashes must stop. Really. It’s getting silly.
    If rules are adopted in a way that drivers can not push their cars to the limit, it is not racing anymore.
    These are the fastest, more advanced and more expensive racing cars in the world, and in Baku are doing incredible speed with a wall on each side. So yes, sometime someone will crash.
    Stop now, please.

    1. I have no problem with a driver who crashes and stops other drivers setting a time, being punished.

    2. What is now, 4 qualifying sessions ruined by poor driving. Something needs to change.

      1. Or maybe the cars are unmanageable with the current regs. They did butcher the rear downforce

    3. There was a (much better) time when drivers who pushed too hard in the race would either find the wall or the sand trap. It’s too blankty blank these days.

    4. They are already punished on track with track limit rules. Losing their lap time for going over it. Did you have a problem with that? Did it prevent them ‘racing’?

  18. Max is a hell of a driver, but I’m starting to think Leclerc is the better one when it comes to one lap pace. One pole out of 6 opportunities driving the best car is a little bit disappointing to say the least. If Leclerc was driving that car I’m pretty sure he would have at least 4 or 5 poles.

    1. Yeah he doesn’t seem to maximize his Q3 performances. There’s certainly room for improvement on that aspect.

      He got a bit unlucky with the red flags though.

      Let’s see what race day brings

    2. Agree. Leclerc is probably the fastest right now.

  19. I really like Max as a race driver, but his rants in the last two qualifying sessions kind of left me feeling he felt entitled to pole. I get he was annoyed he missed his second chance, but red and yellow flags have always been a risk and every driver and team know these risks during any qualifying session. To me the tight street circuit qualifying is similar in a way to wet qualifying and it does my head in sometimes when you see the track empty in sessions like this, then every one comes out at the last minute someone makes a mistake and they have no time left.

    The moral of the story when there is a high chance of disruption. Do better in in your first run and make the most of the situation, thats what Leclerc did, thats why he is on pole.

  20. I said ‘one of’ not ‘the’

  21. Can one imagine a better starting grid? Top drivers sorted in reverse of their car performance.

    Excellent, it would be really bad if Hamilton was P4 and Verstappen P1.

    1. @jureo mhm. Now you’re going to have Ham just draft right on by Charles at the end of lap 1 and head off into the distance.


  22. It really looked like Checo had the pace to seriously fight for pole.

    What a shame he couldn’t show it in his first hot lap!

  23. Was a very interesting qualifying session and just so nice to see hamilton cheering for 2nd place like it was a win, this is how it goes when you fight for stuff and not when everything is handed to you.

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