Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took top spot for the Sprint at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix despite crashing at the end of F1’s first Sprint Shootout. Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez will start second with team-mate and championship leader Max Verstappen in third.
The Monegasque driver claimed pole with his opening lap of the final eight-minute SQ3 session thanks to a lap of 1:41.697. The Red Bull drivers attempted to bypass that on their final runs but with the best of the soft tyres mandated for the segment already gone, there was no way to overhaul the Ferrari driver. Leclerc’s attempt to improve ended in an error, with the Ferrari driver going straight into the barriers at Turn 5, though he only did minimal damage.
In SQ, with all drivers equipped with a single set of medium tyres for the segment and fuelled for multiple push laps, the opening runs served as a warm-up for the properly representative times and when they began to flood in, it was Leclerc who seized the initiative with a lap of 1:42.820, over four tenths ahead of Verstappen.
There was no time for a third push lap for any of the drivers, however. Williams’ Logan Sargeant hit the wall on the exit of Turn 15 and the session was immediately red-flagged. With less than a minute on the clock race control quickly indicated that the session would not be restarted.
It meant that Leclerc topped the opening segment ahead of Verstappen, with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in third.
For the 10-minute SQ2 a single set of medium tyres was again available to each driver and after a single warm-up lap Verstappen went purple in all three sectors to set a benchmark of 1:42.417. Leclerc slotted into second with a lap of 1:42.812, with Pérez third on 1:42.925, and so Verstappen put in a cool-down lap and retreated to the pits, his work done.
The Ferrari drivers put in another run, though and both climbed above Pérez, with Leclerc second and Carlos Sainz finishing third ahead of the Mexican.
In the final segment, it was Leclerc who set the pace in the first runs, with the Ferrari driver posting a lap of 1:41.697, as Pérez took P2 with a lap of 1:41.876. Verstappen might have powered past both, but the champion had a moment in Turn 6, reported “that he lost all the rear in the middle sector” and had to settle for third.
That left the Red Bull drivers with a mountain to climb in the final runs, but with the soft tyres now three laps old it was hard to find pace.
Pérez, the only one of the top three to improve on his final run, went closest, but he only improved by 0.002s so took second place, just under a tenth of a second off Leclerc’s opener. Verstappen couldn’t find more pace and he will line up from the Sprint in P3. Pushing to the end, Leclerc lost control in Turn 5 on his final run, but the Ferrari driver was able to minimise the damage to what looked like a broken front wing and he was able to return to the grid to take up his P1 finisher’s spot.
Behind the top three Mercedes’ George Russell finished fourth ahead of Sainz, while Lewis Hamilton finished fifth ahead of Williams’ Alex Albon and the Aston Martin cars of Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll. The top 10 order was rounded out by McLaren's Lando Norris who did not run in SQ3 due to a lack of new soft tyres.
2023 FIA Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Sprint Shootout
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:41.697
2 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing 1:41.844 0.147
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:41.987 0.290
4 George Russell Mercedes 1:42.252 0.555
5 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:42.287 0.590
6 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:42.502 0.805
7 Alex Albon Williams 1:42.846 1.149
8 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 1:43.010 1.313
9 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:43.064 1.367
10 Lando Norris McLaren
11 Oscar Piastri McLaren 1:43.427 1.730
12 Nico Hulkenberg Haas 1:43.806 2.109
13 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:44.088 2.391
14 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:44.332 2.635
15 Logan Sargeant Williams
16 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:45.177 3.480
17 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:45.352 3.655
18 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:45.436 3.739
19 Pierre Gasly Alpine 1:46.951 5.254
20 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri 1:48.180 6.483