Mercedes Under Performs As Charles Leclerc Takes Third-Straight Pole In Baku

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Formula 1 returned from a month-long spring hiatus and hit one of the series’ most unique circuits to debut a confusing, frankly nonsensical sprint race weekend format. Some teams — like Ferrari, and specifically Charles Leclerc — looked like they were ready and raring to go.

Others, well, they seemed like they were still in vacation mode.

It was a marathon qualifying session thanks to a Q1 that included a pair of red flags. The first came when AlphaTauri’s Nyck De Vries couldn’t get his AT04 to slow down enough to make it through Turn 3 and buried it in the crash barrier.

The Baku Street Circuit crew fixed the barrier and the cars came back on track, only for Alpine’s Pierre Gasly to clip a barrier at the same corner, ruining his right-rear suspension and taking him out of qualifying. That brought out another red flag and another quick barrier fixing.

In all, three cars retired before the end of Q1 with technical gremlins bringing an end to Haas’ Kevin Magnussen’s day.

After that, it was a relatively clean session, but there was a major stunner in Q2; which we’ll get to in a bit.

Charles Leclerc took pole for the third straight time at Baku, but over that stretch, he has never won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Charles Leclerc Takes The Top Spot

Charles Leclerc took pole in Baku in 2021 and 2022. On Friday, he made it three straight by beating Red Bull’s Max Verstappen during the final round of flying laps.

He was understandably pumped.

“Come on!” he said. “Yes! Ah, that feels good. “Amazing job, all the quali, management, incredible. Thanks for everything, guys; the car was good. It’s good to be back on top!”

That has to feel good, especially after the start to the season the Scuderia has had. Now, Leclerc will need to seal the deal on Sunday (because now the sprint race has nothing to do with Friday qualifying or the Grand Prix), something he hasn’t been able to do the last two seasons after taking pole in Azerbaijan.

In 2021, Leclerc nabbed a shocking pole in a down year for Ferrari. However, that car didn’t have the race pace to compete with the Red Bulls or Ferraris and was quickly swallowed up after a few laps.

Last season, his engine blew up. So, while pole is great, that’s only half the job Leclerc needs to do. Plus, with one Mercedes out of position to start the Grand Prix, Leclerc and teammate Carlos Sainz — who will start P4 — need to maximize their points haul.

After a disappointing Q2, Mercedes’ George Russell will start the Azerbaijan Grand Prix from outside the points. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP) (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)

Mercedes Dissappoints

Mercedes is ahead of Ferrari for P3 in the constructors’ standings by 30 points, but they gave the Scuderia a gift on Friday with a poor performance from both cars, but specifically from George Russell.

Russell was eliminated in Q2 and will start in P11 on Sunday. His teammate Lewis Hamilton finished Q2 in P10 just barely making it through to Q3. Hamilton performed better in the final part of qualifying, but still only musted a P5 finish which puts him behind both Ferraris.

Finishing especially at Baku — where both cars DNFed last year — isn’t always a Ferrari strong suit. That said, they have a huge advantage, especially if Russell has a hard time guiding his W14 back into the points. Overtaking at Baku can be a little tricky.

Yeah, it has the longest straight on the calendar providing a good overtaking spot into Turn 1, but the rest of the circuit provides few opposites to overtake, especially in the narrow, twisty middle sector.

Something similar happened to Russell’s predecessor, Valtteri Bottas, in 2021. He qualified in P10 and finished the points in P12.

This is a huge opportunity for Ferrari to make up some ground, but they can’t squander it. Something that, let’s face it, they have a habit of doing.

Follow on Twitter: @Matt_Reigle

Written by Matt Reigle

Matt is a University of Central Florida graduate and a long-suffering Philadelphia Flyers fan living in Orlando, Florida. He can usually be heard playing guitar, shoe-horning obscure quotes from The Simpsons into conversations, or giving dissertations to captive audiences on why Iron Maiden is the greatest band of all time.

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