Robert Kubica was the first driver to fall foul of Turn 8 when he turned in slightly too early, clipped then inside wall and crashed at the end of Q1, bringing out the red flags.
After a half-hour delay while repairs were made to the barriers, Q2 got underway. Ferrari, looking likely to lock out the front row, decided to take a bit of a gamble and send both drivers out on the medium tyres as opposed to the softs. Neither driver set particularly convincing laps so did a cooldown lap and then went for a second: Leclerc, who’d looked like the sure bet for pole, locked up into Turn 8 and went into the same barrier.
“I am stupid, I am stupid”, he said over the radio, understandably furious with himself for throwing away a great opportunity. His initial time was still good enough to have made it into Q3, though, and he’ll start ninth – as long as he doesn’t need to take any penalties for repairs – as Antonio Giovinazzi (who made his first career Q3 appearance will drop back 10 places thanks to power unit penalties.
After another lengthy delay, the rest of the session played out as the sun began to set. The cooler conditions didn’t seem to suit the Ferrari, which brought both Mercedes’ and even Max Verstappen into play. Lewis Hamilton took first blood after the first runs, some four tenths quicker than anyone else, with Verstappen second after doing both of his runs on the same set of tyres.
In the second runs Vettel looked much quicker but just missed out on pipping Hamilton, who himself found himself a little bit stuck in traffic and couldn’t improve his time. Valtteri Bottas, however, was able to improve, and with a bit of a tow from Lando Norris was able to snatch pole for the second race in a row.
Best-of-the-rest went to ‘Mr Baku’ Sergio Perez in a superb fifth, ahead of Daniil Kvyat, Norris and the two Alfa Romeos. Giovinazzi beat Kimi Raikkonen for the first time this season, though he’ll drop back to 18th with a grid penalty.
Renault didn’t have the best of days – Daniel Ricciardo could only muster 12th while Nico Hulkenberg dropped out in Q1 along with the two Williams’, Romain Grosjean and Lance Stroll.
But for the red flag periods, it’s likely we’d be talking about a Ferrari front row, but the cooler conditions caused by the near-hour delay brought Mercedes right into play on a weekend where the car looked like struggling to even beat the Red Bulls. The race is another matter, though, with the slower cars potentially at the front, Leclerc charging through the field and a healthy dose of typical Baku craziness.
Forget the one-stop strategy, the teams are more likely to have to deal with the one, two, or three safety car strategy instead. We can’t wait!