Bottas snags pole after Leclerc crashes

The Finn, who claimed the eighth pole of his career in Saturday's extended accident-strewn qualifying session, was on course to win last year's race until his auto suffered a puncture with three laps remaining.

Baku began hosting Formula One Grand Prix races in 2016 under a 10-year contract that required the paving of city streets with fresh asphalt.

But it wasn't just the tow that Mercedes benefited from; the auto was also quick in the tight middle sector compared to Vettel, which is where tyre temperatures are crucial. Vettel is 35 points behind.

"It was actually a tough race, even though not that much was happening at the front", Bottas said afterwards, thrilled about his fifth career victory.

Pole-sitter Bottas added: "Mistakes you do yourself that you could have avoided. they hurt the most".

The best Leclerc can hope for now is a ninth-placed start, and Ferrari have their backs against the wall despite dominating practice in Azerbaijan. Mercedes too can not have expected to have taken all four wins thus far.

Hamilton got away well and nearly sent Bottas into the wall out of turn one, the Mercedes pair racing wheel-to-wheel through the first few corners.

30/51 - Bottas reduces Leclerc's lead to 1.2 seconds.

With the session running late after two lengthy red-flag delays, and with temperatures dropping and no slipstream, Vettel was unable to extract the lap time from his Ferrari.

22/51 - Max Verstappen sets another fastest lap as he tries to reign in Vettel in fourth. As we've already seen this weekend in Formula 2, strategy can be heavily influenced by Safety Cars, but on paper a two-stopper is slower.

12/51 - Leclerc passes Vettel and goes third.

"I obviously don't feel good about it".

It was Bottas' first pole in Baku and second this year. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +69.107s 6.

In fact the champion drove so ruthlessly that he set the fastest lap, potentially earning that crucial extra bonus point.

When they qualified on the front row, Hamilton said he and Bottas talked over "like gentlemen" how best to fight for the lead without risking a collision or handing Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel an overtaking opportunity.

"I think there's inevitably going to be quite a lot of damage", Williams deputy principal Claire Williams told the BBC.

That will be a big race for Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who picked up his first points of the season by finishing seventh in Baku.

  • Salvatore Jensen