Valtteri Bottas and Mercedes kept themselves under the radar, but were very much on form when it mattered, securing an all-Mercedes front row for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel will start from third.
Qualifying kicked off with Russell heading out early doors for Williams, followed by his team mate. Leclerc though was also quick out of the blocks and went fastest first time out.
Lewis Hamilton meanwhile had run into the run-off at Turn 3 on his first outing. He managed to record the next lap, slotting into second place as, a tenth quicker than Vettel's best at that time.
Hamilton wasn't the only one, with Hulkenberg moments later also seen off the circuit while Stroll scrubbed the barriers but was fortunate to be able to continue.
Robert Kubica was worse off as he clipped the inside of Turn 3 by a tiny margin, sending him straight into the barriers on the outside of the corner. The impact was such that it looked like another damaged chassis for Williams. With Russell already in the spare, the crash could mean that Kubica is out of the race as well.
The red flag that came along with the incident immediately ended Q1, sending out Stroll, Grosjean and Hulkenberg along with both Williams. Gasly meanwhile was fastest in Q1, thanks to a great draft behind Stroll on the main straight. Gasly though is set to start from the pitlane on Sunday following a penalty he incurred on Friday.
Track cleanup and barrier repairs forced a delay of 30 minutes for Q2, but when it eventually started, both McLarens turned up first, rapidly followed by nearly the entire remaining field. So it also became clear that only the Ferrari drivers were attempting to complete this section of qualifying on medium compound Pirelli tyres, contrary to all others using softs.
The first laps saw Verstappen top Bottas and Hamilton, followed by Perez and Leclerc. The Ferrari driver ended up at 0.6s of Verstappen, despite using the harder tyre. Vettel was just 12th fastest with that same strategy on medium tyres, a deficit explained by clipping the barriers on the entry of Turn 3 with his left rear wheel. As sparks came off the rim, Vettel only just managed to keep the car under control and avoid a crash.
All cars on track opted to do a cool down lap and then another quick one, but as soon as some drivers had started their flying laps, Leclerc found himself stuck in the TecPro barriers at Turn 3. The Monegasque quite simply braked too late, locked up the inner front wheel, missed the apex and went into the barriers.
With 7 minutes and 41 seconds on the clock, the session was therefore stopped again for quite a while, as track officials needed a while to repair the barrier and clean up the track once again.
When Q2 got going again, Vettel appeared with soft tyres to have the best opportunity to get through into Q3.
Reducing track temperatures because of the setting sun also triggered everybody else to make use of what was left of Q2 to either attempt to improve, or just get a feel for the conditions. It soon proved that it had become more difficult to set a competitive time, with Vettel requiring two laps to actually set a lap that was better than Leclerc's earlier effort on mediums.
Alex Albon failed to go through after having a harsh encounter with the barriers at Turn 8, however without damage other than on the right rear rim. Kevin Magnussen was smart enough to go into the run-off at Turn 3 to avoid yet another damaged car, even though that obviously meant no improvement from him, and elimination out of Q2.
In Q3, when it all started to really matter, Mercedes were 'suddenly' back up there, with Hamilton fastest on his first attempt, going round in 1:40.703, a good 4 tenths ahead of Vettel and Bottas. Verstappen was initially fourth, followed by Perez, Norris, Giovinazzi and Raikkonen.
Verstappen went on for another lap on the same tyres, improving to second, 0.366s down on Hamilton.
Funnily, the warmup lap for the second outings was a bit of a waiting affair, with seemingly nobody wanting to start their flying laps first. In fact, one of the Mercedes halted just before the pitlane exit to let 4 cars past before charging off ahead of his team mate.
Vettel in the end led the pack with Raikkonen closely behind. Bottas meanwhile followed closely behind Hamilton as Verstappen opted not to go out again.
Vettel's first sector was the best one, but Hamilton replied with purple second and third sectors. Still, none of that was enough, as Bottas did the best overall lap, and a new track record to secure pole position at Baku.
|1||77||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG||1:42.026||1:41.500||1:40.495||20|
|2||44||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG||1:41.614||1:41.580||1:40.554||21|
|4||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Honda||1:41.727||1:41.388||1:41.069||15|
|5||11||Sergio Perez||Racing Point BWT Mercedes||1:42.249||1:41.870||1:41.593||17|
|6||26||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||1:42.324||1:42.221||1:41.681||23|
|7||4||Lando Norris||McLaren Renault||1:42.371||1:42.084||1:41.886||23|
|8||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||1:42.140||1:42.381||1:42.424||21|
|9||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||1:42.059||1:42.082||1:43.068||21|
|11||55||Carlos Sainz||McLaren Renault||1:41.936||1:42.398||-||17|
|13||23||Alexander Albon||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||1:42.154||1:42.494||-||18|
|14||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||1:42.382||1:42.699||-||16|
|15||10||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Racing Honda||1:41.335||-||-||5|
|16||18||Lance Stroll||Racing Point BWT Mercedes||1:42.630||-||-||8|
|17||8||Romain Grosjean||Haas Ferrari||1:43.407||-||-||10|
|19||63||George Russell||Williams Mercedes||1:45.062||-||-||9|
|20||88||Robert Kubica||Williams Mercedes||1:45.455||-||-||8|