(Photo credit: REUTERS/DAVID MDZINARISHVILI)
With the track temperature at 22 degrees Celsius and a mild wind gusting across the circuit, the first qualifying session got under way in Azerbaijan.
Charles Leclerc set the first official time of the weekend with a leisurely 1.45.463. Soon after, a gearbox problem caused Romain Grosjean to go straight on, bringing his session to an end without posting a time.
The resulting yellow flags interrupted a few flying laps as Nico Hulkenberg held the fastest time ahead of Sergey Sirotkin. With the track clear, the lead switched between the top drivers with Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Vettel and Raikkonen all holding the advantage in quick succession. Kevin Magnussen also put in an impressive run to slot in just behind Verstappen.
There then followed a heart-stopping moment as Brendon Hartley’s car slowed in the middle of the track. Seconds later, teammate Pierre Gasly emerged from the corner behind him and had to swerve to avoid a high speed collision. The Frenchman was perturbed by the incident, yelling "What the ----!" over the radio. It transpired that Hartley hit a wall and was nursing a puncture when the episode happened. He sounded sheepish when contacted on the radio: "I'm sorry about that guys. I was trying to get out of the way of Gasly but it was too late. I feel pretty stupid about Gasly."
Moments later, Magnussen's Haas started shedding bodywork as the session drew to a close with Vandoorne, Gasly, Ericsson, Hartley, and Grosjean all eliminated.
Esteban Ocon was having a good day and went second behind Bottas early in Q2. Meanwhile, Raikkonen disappeared into an escape road. Verstappen was going well and went second while Vettel slotted into third.
Hamilton then sneaked ahead of by Bottas by just three thousandths. Elsewhere on the track, Kimi locked up and went straight on again before getting a call to the weighbridge. He eventually got back out and made it into Q3 with just two minutes to spare. Stroll, Sirotkin, Alonso, Leclerc and Magnussen all missed out.
The first round of laps in Q3 finished with Vettel quickest ahead of Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen and Ricciardo. With just over two minutes left, all ten cars went back out for their finals runs.
Hamilton couldn’t get ahead of Vettel and had to be content with second place on the grid. Raikkonen looked all set to grab pole but got out of shape a couple of turns out and ended up in sixth place. To be fair, he did well to keep the car facing the right way. Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo claimed a spot on the second row posting a fourth quickest time. Vettel could not improve on his earlier time but it did not matter as his first run was quick enough to take the pole in Baku.
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