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Bottas takes dramatic pole in Baku


While this morning's practice session was a breeze compare to the numerous incidents that littered yesterday's sessions, it would be somewhat foolish to imagine that we're in for a smooth ride from here on in.

After all, even though there were no red flags, a number of drivers still found themselves thankful for the numerous escape roads, while Carlos Sainz twice showed us how easy it is to get involved as you seek track position, the Spaniard enjoying scraps with Alex Albon and Kimi Raikkonen.

Charles Leclerc headed a Ferrari 1-2 earlier, and with a 1.4s gap to overcome Mercedes has its work cut out.

That said, the German team knew it would have a fight on its hands and other than the lottery-like nature of the traditional Baku weekend, we would never write-off the Silver Arrows, far less its star driver.

It wasn't only the matte red cars that out-paced the Mercedes pair however, Max Verstappen, courtesy of his Honda upgrade, pulled out all the stops to take third, albeit 1.2s adrift of Leclerc. Meanwhile, teammate Pierre Gasly, who will start the race from the pitlane, kept to his own programme which was clearly aimed at tomorrow's opening stint rather than this afternoon.

Daniil Kvyat was best of the rest, with Toro Rosso teammate Alex Albon joining him in the top eight. Also in the top ten were Kevin Magnussen, Sergio Perez and Kimi Raikkonen, the Dane and the Mexican, in particular, looking stronger than their respective teammates.

Despite his tyre issues yesterday, Ricciardo finished the morning eleventh, again, out-performing his teammate.

With temperatures dropping due to the fact that this session, like FP2, takes place at 17:00 local time, it's likely that drivers will continue to struggle for grip, as they will do tomorrow.

Consequently, it is entirely possible, especially when you add in the red mist factor, that we could see some serious surprises this afternoon, in terms of drivers failing to make it into Q3 and others popping up a lot higher on the grid than expected.

Ahead of Q1, the air temperature is 17 degrees C, while the track temperature is 38.1 degrees.

The lights go green and within moments there are ten, eleven twelve drivers on track.

All are on softs, a mistake sees Hamilton lose out while teammate Bottas goes quickest with a 42.430.

Leclerc goers second with a 42.652, ahead of Perez, Raikkonen, Magnussen and Kvyat.

Quickest in the first sector is enough for Vettel to take the top spot with a 42.348, while Hamilton can only manage sixth (43.497).

Leclerc retakes the top spot with a 41.426 with Bottas going second (42.026), as Giovinazzi goes fourth having gone quickest of all in the final sector.

Albon goes fifth, ahead of Gasly and Kvyat, as Verstappen's first flying lap is only good enough for 12th (42.836).

Down in 15th, Hamilton goes for a third flying lap. He posts PBs in all three sectors, crossing the line at 42.272 to go third.

Vettel fails to improve while, with six minutes remaining, Hulkenberg has yet to post a time. Teammate Ricciardo is currently 15th on 43.429.

Down in 13th, Verstappen is told to "push past" the cars ahead, not an order you usually hear the youngster being given.

Gasly goes quickest in S1, maintaining a strong pace in S2 he crosses the line at 41.335 to go top, the Frenchman benefiting from a tow from Stroll down that long, long straight.

Following a lock-up, Verstappen complains of a flat-spot and subsequently pits.

The screen is like St Patricks Day, green sectors all over the place as drivers seek to improve on their final runs.

The drop zone currently comprises Ricciardo, Grosjean, Hulkenberg and the Williams pair, with Stroll, Verstappen, Magnussen and Norris hovering.

Verstappen goes quickest in S2, a PB is S3 good enough for fourth (41.727).

Stroll, Ricciardo and Grosjean begins their final assaults Sainz goes fifth with a 41.936.

Stroll has a dreadful S3 and fails to improve.

The session is red flagged when Kubica goes head first into the barriers. "Sorry guys," my fault," he says.

As a result there are no further improvements and Stroll misses the cut, along with Grosjean, Hulkenberg and the Williams pair.

Replay shows it was a hard impact, the Pole clouting the inside wall in T8 which then spears him into the barriers on the outside of the corner.

Quickest is Gasly, ahead of Leclerc, Hamilton, Sainz, Bottas, Vettel, Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Albon and Perez.

A shock for both Haas and Renault there, with both teams losing one driver in Q1 and their second drivers only making it by the skin of their teeth.

As the barrier is repaired the start of Q2 will be delayed.

The Williams is badly damaged, what the Grove team clearly didn't need following yesterday's manhole encounter.

Another replay shows the front-left suspension failed in the initial impact with the barrier on entry to the corner, resulting in the car spearing into the barriers opposite.

Of course, the longer the delay, the more the temperatures drop.

The session finally resumes and Sainz leads the way, followed by Hamilton, Leclerc, Verstappen, Sainz, Bottas and Vettel. The Ferraris are on the medium rubber.

Sainz gets things underway with a 42.398, with teammate Norris posting 42.573 moments later.

Bottas posts 41.522 to go top ahead of Hamilton (41.580), while Leclerc can only manage third (41.995).

Verstappen goes quickest with a 41.388, while Vettel posts a disappointing 43.335.

Perez posts 41.870 to go fourth, ahead of Leclerc, Kvyat, Sainz, Norris and Magnussen.

Sainz and Kvyat look set to improve, as does Bottas, who goes quickest of all in S1.

The session is red flagged as Leclerc appears to follow the lead of Kubica, crashing into the barriers at T8.

"I am stupid," he sighs, "I am stupid."

Unlike Kubica, though he carried far too much speed into the corner, he didn't hit the barrier on the inside, instead he locked-up and then speared into the barriers opposite.

This of course, means no further progress for the Monegasque.

Currently, with 7:41 of Q2 remaining, it's: Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton, Perez, Leclerc, Raikkonen, Kvyat, Sainz, Norris, Magnussen, Albon, Vettel, Ricciardo and Giovinazzi, with Gasly not having gone out.

Leclerc arrives back in his garage, helmet off and shaking his head in frustration with himself. His mechanics sympathise with him.

While there is much talk of a vacant space on the front row following Leclerc's crash, let's not forget that Vettel is currently 12th, 1.967s off the pace, with no guarantee that he'll take pole.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Baku, here.


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