Vettel take Baku pole


Having had something of a 'Freaky Friday' yesterday, it was pretty much 'business as usual' this morning for world championship leader Sebastian Vettel.

The German - not for the first time - threw a spanner in the works by posting a best time 0.36s better than anyone else could manage having finished a distant 11th on Friday.

As was the case yesterday, for all manner of reasons drivers are struggling for grip, some having spent more time on the escape roads than on the race track.

To further complicate the issue, rather than the ultra, it is the supersoft that is the 'go to' tyre here and unfortunately the teams, believing the purple-banded tyre would be the one to have, have very few of its red-banded brother (sister?) available.

As a result, only the Renault pair used the supersofts this morning, the rest opting to save them for this afternoon and tomorrow. Mind you, the strategy didn't exactly pay off for Nico Hulkenberg who will receive a 5-place grid penalty after his team elected to change his gearbox.

Despite finishing second this morning, Lewis Hamilton appears to be at sixes and sevens, the look on Toto Wolff's face at one stage suggesting that the Mercedes boss is aware the reign is coming to an end.

A late crash involving Sergey Sirotkin meant that the final qualifying sims were ruined, and nobody appeared to suffer more than yesterday's pace-setter Daniel Ricciardo.

Indeed, at a track which is rapidly building a reputation for 'crazy', this morning's final classification appeared to support the theory, with Perez finishing sixth, ahead of Magnussen, Stroll, Ocon, Sirotkin and Alonso.

Add into the mix the possibility of rain, not to mention some very, very strong winds and who knows what to expect over the next hour and indeed tomorrow afternoon.

Ahead of Q1, the air temperature is 22 degrees C, while the track temperature is 26 degrees.

Work is still ongoing on Sirotkin's car following his FP3 crash, but the team is confident the Russian will be taking part.

The lights go green and in moments there are 16 drivers on track, all sporting the purple ultras. Which, of course, means traffic is likely to be an issue.

Grosjean is the first to head down an escape road, the Haas driver getting it wrong at T3. Rejoining the track he compromises Vettel.

Shortly after Grosjean goes off again, this time at T3, reporting that he has a gearbox issue. His session appears to be over. Indeed, as he is pushed to safety double yellows are waved which is bad news for everyone.

After the first lap, Hulkenberg is quickest, ahead of Sirotkin, Magnussen, Stroll and Leclerc.

As Ocon goes quickest (43.929), Verstappen, Perez and Ricciardo are the only drivers still to post a time.

No sooner has Verstappen posted 43.607 than Ricciardo bangs in a 43.259.

Raikkonen goes quickest in the first two sectors as Vettel is also on a hot lap.

Vettel posts 43.129 but Raikkonen stops the clock at 42.985, once again the Finn showing his teammate a clean pair of heels.

A 43.269 sees Hamilton go fourth as teammate Bottas posts 43.581.

Ocon goes second (43.021) having got a tow from Verstappen.

Down in 14th, Perez is off at T15 and has clearly flat-spotted his tyres.

Hamilton goes quickest in S2, as Magnussen goes eighth overall, ahead of Hulkenberg and Sainz.

No sooner has Vettel improved with a 42.762 than Hamilton posts 42.693 and Raikkonen 42.538.

With 5 minutes remaining, all bar the Renaults (and Grosjean) are on track. Stroll, Ericsson, Alonso and Hartley comprise the drop zone, with Perez, Vandoorne and Gasly hovering.

Alonso improves to tenth with a 44.010 as Magnussen goes off at T4 momentarily bringing out the yellows.

Having gone quickest in S2, Verstappen improves to second with a 42.642.

A 43.992 sees Perez go tenth, as Leclerc improves to 14th.

Woah! Gasly does remarkably well not to collide with his teammate (again), the Kiwi travelling very slowly in the middle of the track. The Frenchman, who is far from happy, has to take to the escape road at T15... though it could have been much, much worse.

"I cannot accept it, it is unacceptable" shouts Gasly, "I'm travelling at 300..." "He had a puncture, he had a puncture," comes the reply from his crew.

"I was trying to get out of the way, but I went the wrong way," says Hartley. "Sorry guys."

Hulkenberg improves to ninth while Sirotkin improves to 13th.

Leclerc improves to 11th (43.752) with Stroll taking 15th at the death, thereby eliminating Vandoorne.

Raikkonen is quickest, ahead of Verstappen, Hamilton, Vettel, Ricciardo, Ocon, Bottas, Sainz, Magnussen and Hulkenberg.

We lose Vandoorne, Gasly, Ericsson, Hartley and Grosjean.

Within moments of the lights going green for Q2 there are 11 drivers on track, the big guns, as expected, sporting the supersofts. Of course, this is a gamble that could well backfire.

"I just had a massive lock-up," reports Hamilton on his warm-up lap.

Ocon posts 43.174 to get things underway, Bottas responding with a 42.679.

As Verstappen goes second (42.901), Raikkonen and Stroll bring out the yellows as they head off down different escape roads. Magnussen has also gone off.

Ricciardo goes fourth, ahead of Hulkenberg and Sirotkin.

Vettel goes quickest in S1, eventually crossing the line at 43.015 to go third.

A 44.466 sees Hamilton go tenth, as Bottas goes quickest in S1.

Another off for Raikkonen as the stewards are to investigate Sirotkin for impeding Ericsson in Q1. For a few worrying seconds it looks as though the Ferrari has stalled, it is stopped beside the barrier.

Hamilton goes quickest (42.676) while Bottas pits having failed to improve.

As in FP3, Hamilton only wants to change his rear tyres.

To add to Raikkonen's problems he is summoned to the weighbridge.

While the Mercedes duo appears to have settled, Vettel heads out again, the German sporting ultras. Raikkonen, currently 15th, heads out on supers.

No further action to be taken over the Sirotkin incident.

Leclerc, Perez, Sainz, Magnussen and Raikkonen comprise the drop zone with under a minute remaining.

Raikkonen, on ultras, goes quickest in S1, as Hulkenberg also looks set to improve.

A 43.464 sees Sainz go 8th.

Raikkonen posts 42.510 to go quickest, as Ocon leapfrogs Vettel to go fifth.

In 10th, Ricciardo is sweating.

Stroll fails to improve on eleventh, while Sirotkin and Alonso also miss the cut, which means Ricciardo is safe. Phew!

Raikkonen is quickest, ahead of Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Ocon, Vettel, Hulkenberg, Perez, Sainz and Ricciardo.

We lose Stroll, Sirotkin, Alonso, Leclerc and Magnussen.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Baku, here.

The lights go green for Q3 and Verstappen leads the way, followed by Bottas, Hamilton, Ocon and Vettel. Last out is Sainz.

All are on fresh ultras bar the Renault duo who are on used ultras.

Verstappen sets the benchmark with a 42.017 with Ricciardo posting 42.442.

No sooner has Bottas responded with a 41.943 than Hamilton posts 41.840 and Vettel 41.498.

Another scrappy lap from Raikkonen sees the Finn post 42.490 to go sixth.

Ricciardo admits that he brushed the wall at T15. "I wouldn't go on this set again," he admits.

Behind the big six, Ocon is seventh, ahead of Perez, Hulkenberg and Sainz.

The final assault gets underway, the Mercedes duo leading the charge.

In the battle of wits to be last out, Ferrari appears to blink first, leaving the Bulls the dubious honour of being last out.

While Bottas has a poor S1, Hamilton goes quickest. PBs for the Panthers.

A PB in S2 for Bottas as Hamilton also posts a PB.

Bottas improves to 41.837 but Hamilton posts 41.677 to go second.

Raikkonen goes quickest in S1 as Vettel makes a mistake. The Finn maintains his pace in S2, as Ricciardo posts two PBs.

A poor final sector, including a lock-up in T15, means Raikkonen fails to improve on sixth, while Ricciardo goes fourth (41.911) courtesy of a tow from Raikkonen.

Vettel takes pole despite failing to improve on his previous best, with Hamilton taking second, ahead of Bottas, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Raikkonen, Ocon, Perez, Hulkenberg and Sainz.

Stroll starts 11th, ahead of Sirotkin, Alonso, Leclerc, Magnussen, Vandoorne, Gasly, Ericsson, Hartley and Grosjean.

"I felt the car was good in Q1, and in Q2, and in the last sector of qualifying I knew I had a car that would do what I wanted," says Vettel. "Fortunately my first attempt was enough so I'm really happy.

"It will be an intense race," he admits, "safety cars are very, very likely. We should be in a good place for tomorrow, today when it clicks it just keeps coming. We can't really be much happier with how the day went."

"That was close," adds Hamilton, "we did the best job we could.

"I lost a little bit in the last sector," he adds. "Sebastian did a great job, they were quick all weekend. We are in the mix, I'm going to try and give Sebastian a hard time tomorrow."

"We are starting really close," says Bottas, "and you know the race here can be really crazy so anything can happen."

While we really want to avoid hyperbole, fact is, as Raikkonen just demonstrated, nothing can be taken for granted here, Baku really is a circuit where one should expect the unexpected. Tomorrow could (and should) be fun.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Baku, here.

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Published: 28/04/2018
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