Leclerc beats Verstappen to take surprise pole position in Baku; Perez third

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After a really close qualifying session that saw Verstappen and Leclerc tied on times at the start of Q3, it was the Monegasque that beat the Dutchman to a surprising pole position on the streets of Baku, the first for Ferrari in 2023 and the first non-Red Bull pole of the season.

Photo Credit: Scuderia Ferrari


As Q1 started, Pierre Gasly was one of the first cars on the queue to get out on track, after his fiery loss of hydraulic pressure in FP1, as the Alpine team worked hard to get the Frenchman out in time for qualifying.

First across the line on the first runs was Lewis Hamilton, setting a 1:43.676. The Briton also lost valuable track time in FP1 due to brake issues on his Mercedes. He was quickly pipped by several drivers at the top – including Alex Albon and Valtteri Bottas – dropping him down to 9th.

Zhou Guanyu went off the track early in the session, spinning around at the apex of turn one, but luckily missed the barriers.

Nyck de Vries wasn’t lucky enough to avoid the barriers though, the Dutchman went too quickly into turn three and smashed his AlphaTauri against the barriers on the exit, causing the first red flag of the session.

De Vries reported a brake-by-wire issue at the start of the session, which might have relation to his later crash.

Returning to the pits after the red flag, Kevin Magnussen reported a continuation of his FP1 issues, related to an electrical issue, but the team stated over the radio that it wasn’t a “serious issue”.

The order as the red flag dropped, with 10 minutes left to run in Q1 was: Verstappen, Leclerc, Alonso, Norris, Hamilton, Hulkenberg, Piastri, Perez, Magnussen, Bottas. The drop zone consisted of Ocon, Tsunoda, Gasly, De Vries (out) and Carlos Sainz – who did an unusual one-lap run and pitted at the end without completing it.

Earlier in the session, Max Verstappen reported on his radio for his team to check his headrest. The matter was briefly investigated by the FIA, that deemed the car was not released in an “unsafe” condition.

The red flag lasted around 16 minutes, with the session restarting at 17:24 local time.

The two Williams cars of Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant led a huge queue of cars out of the pit lane as the session restarted – 17 cars joined the circuit, with only Hulkenberg and Tsunoda staying in the garage initially.

The session didn’t last long under green conditions, as Pierre Gasly’s terrible day got even worse as he hit the wall in somewhat similar fashion to De Vries’ earlier shunt, but the Frenchman went rear-first into the wall, damaging his Alpine and deeming the end of his session.

No driver was able to set a lap time during the brief three minutes of green flag running, maintaining the previous order.

Carlos Sainz spun his SF-23 at turn one of his lap, just moments before the red flag for Gasly’s shunt was deployed.

As the session restarted, Haas asked Kevin Magnussen to slow his car down and bring it back to the pits, as his earlier issues continued to affect the car, ruling him out of the rest of qualifying, down in 18th place.

It left two spots to be fought over on the final run, as Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu occupied the 16th and 17th places.

As the final runs unfolded, Zhou Guanyu couldn’t move himself out of the bottom five, and was joined by Nico Hulkenberg as one of only two drivers eliminated that saw the chequered flag.

At the top, Charles Leclerc jumped up to first right at the end, beating Verstappen’s previous time by just over a tenth. The two Williams cars of Albon and Sargeant comfortably made it out of Q1, in a strong showing.

Drivers Eliminated: Zhou Guanyu 16th, Nico Hulkenberg 17th, Kevin Magnussen 18th, Pierre Gasly 19th, Nyck de Vries 20th.


The drivers once again formed a long queue at the end of the pit lane as the session started, as getting an early lap to avoid the threat of red flags is imperative to a smoother session around the tricky Baku circuit. The sun got lower, with some drivers already in Q1 reporting “annoyance” with it, including Max Verstappen.

As the first runs finished, the top four cars were separated by just under a quarter of a second. Sergio Perez led his team-mate Verstappen by 0.062s, with a further 0.023s back to Leclerc in P3, with Alonso over 0.15s further back in P4. Carlos Sainz completed the top five, 0 386s off the pace of Perez.

With just the final runs left to be finished, the bottom five consisted of: Ocon, Hamilton, Piastri, Sargeant and Bottas.

Hamilton got himself quickly out of the elimination zone, but could only go eighth fastest, with his team-mate Russell just 0.004s behind in ninth, leaving both Mercedes’ cars at risk of an early exit of qualifying.

As it happened, George Russell couldn’t escape the relegation, finishing the session down in 11th. The two Williams cars, that seemed to show promising pace in practice and qualifying, were also knocked out along with Esteban Ocon and Valtteri Bottas.

At the top, Max Verstappen set a new benchmark of a 1:40.822, putting him two tenths clear of Leclerc. The two McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri made great use of the car upgrades, as both moved into Q3 without major issues.

Another impressive performance was from AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, who got P7 and his first appearance in Q3 since the 2022 Singapore GP.

Seven-time champion Hamilton only got through by four thousandths of a second, in 10th place.

Drivers Eliminated: George Russell 11th, Esteban Ocon 12th, Alex Albon 13th, Valtteri Bottas 14th, Logan Sargeant 15th.


Eight cars headed off on the circuit as the final segment of qualifying started, with only Lance Stroll and Oscar Piastri staying in the garage initially.

Incredibly, Max Verstappen set a benchmark of 1:40.445, matched to the last millisecond by Leclerc, with the Dutchman ahead as he set his lap time first. Sergio Perez was 0.118s adrift from the pair, with Sainz a further 0.4s back.

Hamilton, Norris, Stroll, Tsunoda, Alonso and Piastri completed the top 10 with five minutes remaining.

At the end, Charles Leclerc managed to improve his lap time to a 1:40.203, bagging his third consecutive pole position in Baku, and Ferrari’s first since the 2022 US GP. He headed Max Verstappen by just over 0.18s, with Sergio Perez completing the top three. Further back, Carlos Sainz completed the session in fourth, ahead of Hamilton and Alonso, with Norris, Tsunoda, Stroll and Piastri completing the top 10.

With the new format for the Sprint weekends in 2023, Leclerc is officially credited with pole position for Sunday’s race. Saturday morning will see the Sprint shootout set the grid for the Sprint race.