It’s now three Pole Positions from the last three visits to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for Charles Leclerc – who will be hoping for better Formula 1 luck than he got in 2022. Last June, he was in contention for victory but a blown engine put him out and was the first big dent in his title ambitions following another failure in Spain beforehand. This time, Leclerc badly needs to get his season firing, having just six points to his name for seventh in Jeddah, coupled with two retirements. He is the big winner of Qualifying – but who joins him on the good list, and who had a shocker on Friday in Baku? Winner – Charles Leclerc It would be peak Leclerc to set the exact same time as Max Verstappen and start behind him by dint of setting it after the Red Bull driver did. This was the case after the first runs in Q3, but the Monegasque, who had held a sizeable advantage over Carlos Sainz all weekend, took the fight to the Red Bull. He pulled out 0.242s on the second attempt to take a first Pole of the season – and first since the French Grand Prix last July. Ferrari’s strength this season has been on single lap pace, so perhaps it is no surprise Leclerc was able to pull a Pole lap out, with Red Bull excelling in the race. He’ll need to upset the form book if he is to take a first win since Austria and deny Verstappen yet another (likely) win from a Leclerc Pole. What did Leclerc say? “It’s a very challenging weekend for us drivers, because we had very little time to practice, we only done FP1 and then you need to be straight on it, but the feeling was good from the start.” Loser – Pierre Gasly It was as bad as a Friday could get for Pierre Gasly in Baku. Firstly, a loss of hydraulic pressure caused a fire in the sole practice session, meaning he had about 10 minutes of track time heading into qualifying. Then, he clouted the wall, suffering severe damage at Turn 3 after the mechanics had spent most of their lunch break rebuilding the car after it had been returned. He will start 19th on Sunday, with the goal for his sprint day tomorrow surely being that of simply surviving and using the day as an extended test session, especially given Alpine have brought a rather extensive upgrade package to Baku, focusing on the floor and suspension – one example of which was destroyed by Gasly. What did Gasly say? “It’s been one of those days where we’ve faced setbacks and it’s important we all bounce back. My mind is already looking ahead to tomorrow where we have another Qualifying session and, of course, the Sprint Race where points are on offer.” Winner – McLaren The important thing to remember about McLaren’s floor upgrade in Baku, is that it is one that was designed under James Key – the technical director who left the team earlier in the year. And it seems to have worked with both cars though to Q3, with Lando Norris looking set for a possible third, or even second row, slot on the grid. He’s comfortably had the advantage over Oscar Piastri throughout the weekend thus far, perhaps expected seeing as Piastri has only raced in Baku once (in 2021 in Formula 2) whereas Norris has three times. The Briton was clear that this package puts McLaren where they should have been at the start of the season, as they mixed it with the Mercedes and Aston Martin cars. In the end, seventh and 10th was perhaps a little below expectation – certainly on Norris’s side of the garage, but it’s much better to be wanting to prove a point than patting yourself on the back for a job well done. What did Norris say? “The car is working well on this circuit, and I feel like I did a better job of driving, but things should have been better. Really, we should have been P4 today, so a bit disappointed honestly.” Loser – Mercedes Mercedes know they are in the battle for second-fourth best team on a given weekend, depending on how Aston Martin and Ferrari get on. Baku was never going to suit Aston as the AMR23 is a draggy machine, and Lewis Hamilton pulled out a stonking lap to stick it P5 on the grid ahead of Fernando Alonso, but 11th for the sister car of George Russell was just a bad result. Russell was only 17th in FP1, and was knocked out in Q2 by just 0.004s from Hamilton in P10. Scrapping over one place in Q2 to get to Q3? Is that really where Mercedes are these days? Toto Wolff admitted that the car was good in the first sector, but in the “twisty” bits in the heart of the lap, it just could not live with the Ferrari or Red Bull. Mercedes are simply in survival mode until those upgrades arrive at Imola – and if they don’t get the team pointing somewhere near the right direction, their nails will be worn down even further from all the head-scratching going on at Brackley. What did Wolff say? “We have the car in a good window, it is just generally the car is not stable for the drivers and doesn’t have enough load. We haven’t put any upgrades on the car that will come for Imola, so we need to make the best out of this package.” Winner – Yuki Tsunoda The growing up of Yuki Tsunoda continues, and continues well. He guided the AlphaTauri into Q3 and earned himself eighth on the grid for Sunday’s race with a tidy lap, befitting of a driver who is steadily unlocking his talent. Making the most of a rear brake disc upgrade, Tsunoda gave AlphaTauri a bit of a spark, at a circuit that has seen their best results in both 2021 and 2022. He now must convert into a solid points haul on Sunday to keep this forward momentum going. What did Tsunoda say? “It’s a step in the right direction and points can be possible over this weekend, so we’ll continue working to find even more performance so we can bring home some points during the sprint race tomorrow and the race on Sunday.” Loser – Nyck de Vries On the flipside is the sister AlphaTauri of Nyck de Vries. Tsunoda has now out-qualified him 4-0, as the Dutchman stuffed the car into the Turn 3 wall, ruining any chance of making it 3-1 instead. To be fair to him, the car did have a problem in qualifying, with a potential brake issue tentatively identified as a potential cause of the shunt. De Vries is struggling in the car, and seems at a loss on how to match the much improved Japanese racer across the other side of the garage. Work to do for the 2019 F2 champion – or else his full-time F1 career could prove a very short one if the history of drivers at Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri teaches us anything. What did de Vries say? “Honestly, I don’t exactly know what happened [in the crash]. I think the issues pre-session were obvious but I don’t like to make conclusions without seeing what happened.”

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