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.

Starting tomorrow from the pitlane, it is no surprise to see Gasly out of his car, the Frenchman not taking any further part in today's action.

Air temperature is now down to 15 degrees C, while the track temperature is 28.4 degrees.

The lights go green, but it is almost a minute before the first driver emerges, it's Vettel, now on the softs. He is followed by Norris and Kvyat.

A close shave for Ricciardo at T8 as Vettel begins his flying lap.

A PB for Vettel in S1, while Bottas goes quickest and Hamilton is already off the pace.

Another PB in S2 for Vettel, while Raikkonen remains sixth overall.

A 42.209 sees Vettel go seventh overall, ahead of Kvyat and Sainz.

Already fourth, Perez looks set to improve, as out come the yellows in S2.

The Mexican remains fourth, while Vettel posts a PB in S1. The German maintains the pace in S2, finally crossing the line at 41.889 to go fifth.

A 42.381 sees Giovinazzi join his Alfa Romeo teammate in the top ten.

Ricciardo aborts and thereby fails to make the cut. Replay shows the Renault driver clouting the wall but getting away with it.

Kvyat consolidates ninth spot, while teammate Albon fails to make the cut.

We lose Sainz, Ricciardo, Albon, Magnussen and Gasly.

Quickest is Verstappen, ahead of Bottas, Hamilton, Perez, Vettel, Leclerc, Raikkonen, Norris, Kvyat and Giovinazzi.

Verstappen is first out for Q3, followed by the Mercedes pair, Bottas lucky not to be T-boned by an Alfa Romeo.

Bottas sets a blistering pace on his out lap.

As Verstappen heads into S3, Bottas and then Hamilton go quickest in S1.

Verstappen posts 41.447, with Bottas posting 41.175 shortly after.

However, quickest in the first two sectors, Hamilton stops the clock at 40703.

Vettel is quickest in S3, where Hamilton could only manage a PB, the German going second with a 41.124, 0.421s adrift of the world champion.

Perez goes fifth, ahead of Norris, Giovinazzi and Raikkonen, Kvyat still to emerge.

On a second flying lap, Verstappen posts a PB in S1, the Red Bull driver maintaining the pace in S2. At the line it's 41.069 which puts him second, 0.366s off the pace.

As the rest prepare for their final runs, Kvyat has the track to himself.

The Russian posts 41.761 to go sixth, a strong lap from the Toro Rosso driver.

With 2:20 remaining, the Mercedes pair, Vettel and the rest begin to emerge.

Bottas and Hamilton appear to think it's Sunday as they battle for track position.

All eyes on Vettel who has Giovinazzi running behind, clearly looking for a tow.

Vettel goes quickest in S1, while Hamilton is already well off the pace.

A PB in S2 for Vettel, with Hamilton going purple moments later.

At the line it's 40.797 and second for Vettel, and while Hamilton consolidates his position with a 40.554, Bottas pulls a surprise and stops the clock at 40.495 to take pole.

Told he's got pole, Bottas sounds like Dick Dastardly, "ha, ha, ha, yes!" he laughs, "good job".

Another Mercedes lock-out, while Vettel starts third, ahead of Verstappen, Perez, Kvyat, Norris, Giovinazzi, Raikkonen and Leclerc.

Sainz will start eleventh, ahead of Ricciardo, Albon, Magnussen, Gasly, Stroll, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Russell and Kubica.

"It was a nice feeling getting it done on the last lap," says Bottas in the post-session trackside interview. "As a team we did really good to be here we are now after a difficult practice. I managed to hit the sweet spot!"

"Ferrari have looked incredibly quick," adds Hamilton. "This is a massively great result for us, we came here, we didn't have an upgrade so for us to lock-out the front row, it puts us in a great position for tomorrow. Pace wise we are closer in race trim."

"It was quite tricky, the track cooled down, it was difficult to find the right balance," admits Vettel. "In the end, I had a good lap but I had no tow.

"Not happy that overall from the team point of view, we were expecting a better session," he adds.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Baku, here.

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Published: 27/04/2019
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