Max will start from row two for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after finishing fourth in an enthralling, incident-packed qualifying session at the Baku City Circuit that featured two red-flag periods due to crashes involving Williams’ Robert Kubica and Ferrari’s pole position hopeful Charles Leclerc. Pierre, meanwhile, topped the Q1 timesheet but sat out the rest of qualifying ahead of a pit lane start due to a penalty.
In the opening session, Sebastian Vettel led the way early on, with the Ferrari man getting a good tow on the start-finish straight to set a time of 1:42.348. His teammate Leclerc was quickly into the groove, however, and his time of 1:41.426 established a tough benchmark.
Max, meanwhile, suffered a lock-up into turn seven on his first run and his first lap left him in down in P12 and under threat of elimination. He returned to the pit lane for a fresh set of tyres and prepared for another attempt.
Pierre, though, was finding the going easier, and his first lap netted him sixth place, 1.1s down on Leclerc’s P1 time.
Like Max, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was also having difficulty and he was forced to use an escape road on his first lap after overcooking his entry to turn three. He too would require more laps to make his way through to Q2, eventually jumping to third place.
The track was now improving rapidly and a spate of improvements were made and it soon became clear that early estimates of the cut-off time would need revision.
Pierre provided ample proof of the ever-evolving nature of the circuit as he embarked on his second run. The Frenchman went quickest of all in the first sector and then, benefiting from a massive tow from Racing Point’s Lance Stroll, he crossed the line in just 1:41.335 to claim top spot, which he held until the chequered flag.
Max, was now out on his second run, and despite missing out on a tow at the end of his lap the Dutchman’s time of 1:41.727 shortly before the chequered flag was good enough for fourth place behind Hamilton, Leclerc and Pierre.
There was drama as the flag came out, however. Williams’ Robert Kubica stayed too close to the inside wall in turn eight and a brush with the barrier bounced him straight across the track and into the opposite wall.
The session was immediately red-flagged, meaning that those hoping for a late improvement were denied. Out of the session went 16th-placed Lance Stroll, followed by Haas’ Romain Grosjean, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, Williams’ George Russell and in P20 the unfortunate Kubica.
At the top, with Gasly first ahead of Leclerc, Hamilton and Max, fifth place went McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, with Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas sixth ahead of Vettel and Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi.
Also through to Q2 were Toro Rosso’s Alexander Albon in ninth, followed by Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez, the second Toro of Daniil Kvyat, McLaren’s Lando Norris, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo.
After a lengthy delay to repair the barriers, Q2 saw Max take an early lead with him going quickest with a lap of 1:41.388. Pierre, facing a pit lane start after missing a call to the weighbridge in FP2, stayed in the garage.
Both Ferrari drivers, meanwhile, headed out on medium tyres in a bid to start the race on the yellow compound. With Vettel only managing P11 on his opening run, two seconds down on Max, and Leclerc slotting into P5 the move looked a risky one in the cooler conditions and so it proved.
On his second run, Leclerc, carrying too much speed, straight-lined Turn 8 and hit the barriers in the same spot as Kubica. The session was again immediately red-flagged.
Another lengthy delay followed and when the session restarted Max and Pierre chose to remain in the garage. Vettel, who had dropped to P12 just ahead of the red flag, was first out on track, this time on soft tyres and the German eventually made it through in P5 ahead of Leclerc, Räikkönen, Norris, Kvyat and Giovinazzi. Eliminated were Sainz, Ricciardo, Albon, Magnussen and Pierre.
The finale of the marathon session proved to be enthralling. Max was first out on track at the start of the segment and took provisional pole with a lap of 1:41.447. That was quickly bypassed by Hamilton who posted a good lap of 1:40.703 to take provisional pole ahead of Vettel and Bottas.
Max went straight into a second flying lap though and the Dutchman jumped to the front row with an impressive lap of 1:41.069. With no tyres remaining Max had to sit out the final runs and wait for the action to unfold.
Vettel was first out in the final runs, prioritising tyre temperature over gambling on a tow and in the end it cost the Ferrari driver. He couldn’t match Hamilton’s time and after crossing the line in P2 watched as Bottas leapfrogged both to claim pole position with a time of 1:40.495.
The second runs dropped Max to fourth place, still his best qualifying position in Baku. He will start alongside Vettel and ahead of Sergio Pérez. Sixth place went to Daniil Kvyat, with Lando Norris in seventh ahead of the Alfa Romeo’s of Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Räikkönen. Charles Leclerc qualified in P10 but will move up one place on the grid as Giovinazzi is set for a 10-place grid penalty.
4 – Is Max’s best qualifying position in Baku.
8 – Max’s best finishing position in the City of Winds to date is P8 at European GP here in 2016.
12 – Pierre’s only finish to date in Baku was P12 last year.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix - Qualifying Top 10:
1. Valtteri Bottas
2. Lewis Hamilton
3. Sebastian Vettel
4. MAX VERSTAPPEN
5. Sergio Perez
6. Daniil Kvyat
7. Llando Norris
8. Antonio Giovinazzi
9. Kimi Räikkönen
10. Charles Leclerc