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Max will start Azerbaijan GP from P2: 'It's always tricky here'

Published on 28 April 2023 by Stefan Meens

Max Verstappen will start Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix from the first row of the grid. The Oracle Red Bull Racing driver lines up next to polesitter Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari driver was quickest around the streets of Baku, with Max’ team mate Sergio Perez completing the top three.

“It’s always difficult to put a good lap together here”, said Max after qualifying. “We tried something different in the second run in Q3 during the warm-up lap. It probably wasn’t ideal looking at the laptime in the end.”

The reigning champion continued saying: “Baku is tricky, in Q3 you’re really on the limit and to get it done perfect is not easy. Nevertheless, we’re second and we have a good car of the race, so things aren’t so bad. You always want to start at the front, but there’s only one car to pass.”

Looking ahead to Saturday’s sprint shootout, Max said: I’m looking forward to see what we can do and maybe find some improvements. But we have to keep it clean and tidy. It’s really easy to make a mistake here and that’s what we want to avoid. We’ll see.”

The first part of qualifying, Q1, is eventful with two red flags caused by crashes in turn three. Nyck de Vries is the first driver getting caught out by the tight left-hander, ploughing into the barriers. The crash means the Dutchman will start Sunday’s race in last place.

After the stricken AlphaTauri has been salvaged and the session resumes, it is only a few minutes until Pierre Gasly also misjudges turn three and ends up parking his Alpine in the barriers. Once the track is cleared and the session resumes, the remaining drivers have seven minutes on the clock to try to progress to the second part of qualifying.

In the end, Guanyu Zhou (Alfa Romeo), Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen (both Haas) join De Vries and Gasly at the bottom of the timing sheets and strand in the first part of qualifuing

Q2 is significantly less hectic with no red flags nor delays. The Red Bulls and Leclerc’s Ferrari progress comfortably but behind them the battle is more tense. In the end, the surprise of the session, albeit a negative one, is George Russell’s early exit in P11, with Mercedes colleague Lewis Hamilton scraping through in tenth. The Williams' of Albon and Sargeant, Ocon’s Alpine and Bottas’ Alfa Romeo also fail to make the top ten.

In Q3 it is a straight fight between the two Red Bulls and Leclerc’s Ferrari. Max draws first blood by clocking the quickest time on his first of two timed flying laps. Soon after, Leclerc equals Max’ time, but as the latter completed his lap first, he sits in P1.

On the final and decisive lap, Leclerc goes purple in sector one, soon followed by Perez going purple. Max trails the duo by a tenth but claws back time in sector two and three. Although it is enough to beat Perez over the whole lap, sadly for the Dutchman Leclerc improves even more and claims an impressive pole position. 

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Results qualifying Azerbaijan:

1Charles LeclercLECFerrari1:41.2691:41.0371:40.203
2Max VerstappenVERRed Bull Racing Honda RBPT1:41.3981:40.8221:40.391
3Sergio PerezPERRed Bull Racing Honda RBPT1:41.7561:41.1311:40.495
4Carlos SainzSAIFerrari1:42.1971:41.3691:41.016
5Lewis HamiltonHAMMercedes1:42.1131:41.6501:41.177
6Fernando AlonsoALOAston Martin Mercedes1:41.7201:41.3701:41.253
7Lando NorrisNORMcLaren Mercedes1:42.1541:41.4851:41.281
8Yuki TsunodaTSUAlphaTauri Honda RBPT1:42.2341:41.5691:41.581
9Lance StrollSTRAston Martin Mercedes1:42.5241:41.5761:41.611
10Oscar PiastriPIAMcLaren Mercedes1:42.4551:41.6361:41.611
11George RussellRUSMercedes1:42.0731:41.654
12Esteban OconOCOAlpine Renault1:42.6221:41.798
13Alexander AlbonALBWilliams Mercedes1:42.1711:41.818
14Valtteri BottasBOTAlfa Romeo Ferrari1:42.5821:42.259
15Logan SargeantSARWilliams Mercedes1:42.2421:42.395
16Zhou GuanyuZHOAlfa Romeo Ferrari1:42.642
17Nico HulkenbergHULHaas Ferrari1:42.755
18Kevin MagnussenMAGHaas Ferrari1:43.417
19Pierre GaslyGASAlpine Renault1:44.853
0Nyck De VriesDEVAlphaTauri Honda RBPT1:55.282