The tight and narrow streets of Baku, Azerbaijan claimed their fair share of shattered carbon fiber Saturday with a brutally long qualifying session paused twice with delays to retrieve cars and replace the safety barrier at Turn 8. In the end, it added up to an exciting and surprising session because of it. The track itself may not be the best of the season, but the drivers are working to make it interesting, at least
First, following a Q1 where his time netted him last place on the grid, Robert Kubica was attempting to improve his time after the checkered flag had fallen and scraped the inside wall at T8 and bounced into the offside wall at the apex of the chicane’s right hander. This took over half an hour to remove and repair.
Next up it was Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, a man who was looking good for the pole position this weekend, who ended up suffering the ire of Turn 8. Ferrari’s strategy had both Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel out on Medium compound tires, which were not good enough to get them up out of the relegation times. After pitting for a softer compound, Leclerc locked up his cold front tires going into 8 and smashed that same wall that had just been cleaned up and replaced. Q2 was red flagged and delayed another half hour.
Mercedes, during Friday practice were concerned with the pace of the cars, and were affecting repairs on Lewis Hamilton’s car late Friday night. Hamilton was quoted as having said he didn’t think the team could find the pace to beat the Ferraris this weekend, as they were down more than seven tenths in practice to the red cars.
With Leclerc out of Q3 altogether with a crashed car, and Vettel struggling, it looked like Lewis Hamilton would have the pole position locked up with a few good laps. Then, on the very last lap Lewis’ Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas jumped up and locked in a lap just a few hundredths quicker than Hamilton’s best time.
Bottas from Hamilton from Vettel with Leclerc starting the race down in 10th. It should be an interesting first corner, at least. Street circuits are generally a let down from a passing perspective, but there are plenty of opportunities for these drivers to step on their own... Well, anyway, here’s to a great Azerbaijan Grand Prix tomorrow morning.