Valtteri Bottas took pole position for tomorrow’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix after an almost 2 hour long qualifying session that was disrupted by 2 red flags following crashes at turn 8 at the start of the castle section.
After a relatively quiet 1st session Robert Kubica brought out the red flags with around 15 seconds left in the session after clipping the inside of the wall going into turn 8, braking his front suspension and carrying straight on into the barriers on the outside of the turn, blocking the track. Williams, as usual this season, were well off the pace with Kubica only managing to set a time of 1:45.455 with team-mate George Russell just under 4 tenths faster. Meanwhile Lance Stroll continued his unwanted streak as he failed to progress from the 1st session for the 8th consecutive race, finishing 16th and missing out by 0.15 seconds on Daniel Ricciardo’s 15th place time. Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenburg were the other 2 drivers to miss out from this session. The surprise of Q1 though was Pierre Gasly setting the fastest time after 2 quick sectors and being able to pick up a tow from Sergio Perez in the fast and straight sector 3. There was a little controversy at the end of the session under the red flag as Ricciardo crossed the line to knock Grosjean out at what looked like the same time as the session was red flagged, but it would appear that he broke the timing beam half a second before the session was suspended.
After a delay of 30 minutes to recover Kubica’s car and repair the barriers, Q2 got under way at around the time that Q3 would normally be coming to a close and this time is was Max Verstappen and both Mercedes cars that were fastest on the track on soft tyres after Ferrari sent both Leclerc and Vettel out on Mediums to see if they could do enough with the slower rubber to be able to start the race on them tomorrow and run long before their pit stops. This plan didn’t work for Vettel who found himself in 11th place after his first run with Charles Leclerc in 5th and it looked like the experiment hand’t worked. With 7:41 left in the session the red flags were out again as Leclerc locked up on the way into turn 8 and hit the same barrier that Kubica had eliminated himself in earlier. This caused another delay of over 25 minutes while the section of barrier was repaired for the 2nd time and the Ferrari was returned to the pits. Once the on track action resumed Sebastian Vettel switched to the soft tyres and managed to make the most of them on what was now a rapidly cooling track with a time (1:41.889) that was good enough for 5th place. RedBull opted not to run Gasly in this session due to him starting from the pit lane tomorrow after his penalty and he finished the session with no time. With the track temperature dropping there wasn’t much scope for improved times from anyone and the session ended with Max Verstappen topping the timesheets with a 1:41.388 with Bottas & Hamilton both within 2 tenths of him in 2nd & 3rd with last year’s 3rd place finisher Serigo Perez in a respectable 4th place. The other drivers out in the session were Sainz, Ricciardo, Albon and Magnussen.
After long delays in the 2 previous sessions it was decided that it would be a quick turn-round for Q3 and with the track temperature now below 30 degrees all the remaining drivers bar Daniil Kvyat made their 1st runs as early as possible. Max Verstappen was the first over the line, but the Mercedes cars were in close attendance with Lewis Hamilton taking the early advantage with the first sub 1:41 time of the day (1:40.703) to take provisional pole with Bottas putting in a 1:41.172. However Sebastian Vettel split the 2 silver cars on the first run by slotting into 2nd by besting Bottas’s time by five hundredths, knocking the RedBull down to 4th, until a 2nd flying lap on the 1st stint from Max brought him up to 2nd place, but still not making it into the 1:40’s (1:41.069). Meanwhile Toro Rosso decided to employ a different plan for Daniil Kvyat and he had a mostly clear track for his run which ended with a time that was good enough for 6th place (1:41.681).
With 3 minutes left in the session the drivers went out for their 2nd runs with both of the Mercedes stopping at the end of the pit lane for practice starts and to get a decent gap in front of them with Bottas taking the lead. This left Sebastian Vettel to try and take advantage of a clear track in front of him and he set a time of 1:40.797, which at the time was enough for 2nd on the grid. However Mercedes appeared to time things perfectly as they both crossed the line to start their last flying laps with 5 seconds left on the clock and a decent amount of space in front of them. Lewis seemed to get too close to Bottas as the Finn managed to set a purple first sector, while the reigning World Champion was slower than his first run by 0.3 seconds. Hamilton managed to close the gap and speed up over the remainder of the lap, but not by enough as Bottas crossed the line with a time of 1:40.495 with Hamilton 0.059 slower, knocking Vettel down to 3rd and Verstappen, who was already in the garage by this point having run out of tyres to 4th.
The rest of the top 10 was made up by Perez in 5th, Kvyat in 6th, Norris 7th, Giovinazzi 8th, Raikkpnen 9th and the not participating Charles Leclerc classified 10th.
Provisional Grid for the Azerbaijan GP
|18||GIO (10 Place Penalty)|
|PIT LANE||GAS (Penalty)|