Leclerc tops Sprint Shootout despite late crash


Charles Leclerc once again topped the timesheets in Baku, the Ferrari driver leading the Sprint Shootout session from Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen.

But it was a messy end for the Monegasque who clouted the barrier on his final run at the very end of the hectic session.

As a reminder, the Sprint Shootout session follows the usual Q1-Q2-Q3 format, but the duration of each segment has been reduced, with SQ1 lasting 12 minutes, SQ2 cut to 10 minutes and SQ3 lasting just 8 minutes, with the latter's duration allowing drivers to achieve just a single lap.

Furthermore, a mandatory tyre schedule adopted for the session sees drivers running on mediums in Q1 and Q2, and on a new set of softs in Q3.

SQ1: Leclerc quickest as Sargeant crashes in hectic segment

The full field lost no time taking to the track when the light went green. With just 12 minutes to make their case while contending with cold tyres at the outset, the most sensible strategy called for a progressive build-up.

Permutations at the front saw Hamilton, Perez, Verstappen and then Leclerc top the leaderboard while McLaren rookie Oscar Piastri went straight on at Turn 3, fortunately with no consequences save for some lost time. Shortly after, de Vries was also caught out at the same corner, the Dutchman also losing track time. Meanwhile, over at Alpine, Pierre Gasly was a no show due to a suspected exhaust leak, so it was more misery for the Frenchman.

While times improved among the leaders, there was little progress among the laggards, with Zhou, Bottas, Tsunoda, Gasly and de Vries lingering in the elimination zone.

With 30 seconds left on the clock, Logan Sargeant planted his Williams in the wall, which logically triggered the red flag. The American had set the 11th quickest time, theoretically giving him a free pass into SQ2.

The incident brought the segment to a premature close which was bad news for the bottom five drivers, from Zhou to de Vries, who were left permanently stranded. Up ahead, it was a good start for Leclerc, Friday's poleman, who edged Verstappen, Hamilton, Sainz and Russell.

SQ2: Verstappen edges Leclerc - Piastri just misses the cut

If SQ1 was hectic, the second segment promised to take things up a notch with just 10 minutes of track time, with everyone again shod with the medium compound tyre.

The action resumed with only 14 cars, with Sargeant obviously missing from the field.

Haas' Nico Hulkenberg was in trouble right away, having locked up and taking to the escape route, a mishap that compromised the German driver's session.

The usual suspects were in command up ahead after the first flyers, with Verstappen quickest from Leclerc and Perez.

With just over a minute to go, Sainz went straight at Turn 15, but managed to turn it around.

As the checkered flag was displayed, Magnussen sitting in the pits was a de facto knock out. The final rush among the backmarkers saw Albon squeeze into the top ten, while Norris closed out the group.

Piastri looked set to make the SQ3 cut, but a team slipstream effort between Alonso and Stroll pulled the Canadian into the mix and pushed the Aussie into the elimination zone along with Hulkenberg, Ocon, Magnussen and Sargeant.

SQ3: Double pole and crash for Leclerc!

With no new soft tyres at his disposal, Norris was forced to sit out the final shootout. Both Red Bulls were out first for the 8-minute mad dash, with Perez setting the first benchmark. But Leclerc's first effort took the Ferrari charger to the top, with a 0.179s margin over Perez.

As everyone regrouped, drivers jockeyed for positions, hoping to pick up a tow, while Perez backed up the group before launching into his final flyer.

As the checkered flag was waved, there was drama once again for Leclerc in Baku, the Monegasque losing it at Turn 5 on his final hot lap and clouting the barriers!

But Red Bull failed to take advantage of its rival's mistake as Perez and Verstappen stayed second and third.

A great effort by Russell positioned the Mercedes in fourth place, with Sainz and Hamilton rounding off the top six. Just behind, Albon, Alonso and Stroll closed out the field, with the Aston duo lamenting more DRS issues.

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