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Leclerc smashes it as he grabs sprint pole in Baku

Charles Leclerc will start on pole for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix Sprint race despite crashing on his final flying lap in qualifying on Saturday.

The Ferrari driver is joined by Sergio Perez’s Red Bull on the front row for the first of Formula One’s six sprints this season.

The Mexican’s teammate Max Verstappen finished third with George Russell of Mercedes in fourth.

Leclerc is a master of qualifying on the streets of Baku, adding this to his pole from qualifying on Friday for Sunday’s main event, for which he has now headed the grid for the past three years

The sprint, introduced in 2021, has undergone a revamp this year.

The 100-kilometre dash now stands alone from Sunday’s main race with its own new shorter form of qualifying called the ‘Sprint Shootout’.

Leclerc created a footnote in F1 history by claiming the honours of the inaugural edition in entertaining style.

He topped the times with three minutes of qualifying to go but then slid his Ferrari into the barriers at his last throw of the dice.

But the Red Bulls weren’t able to better Leclerc’s time as he claimed his second pole in Azerbaijan inside 24 hours.

“The rear overheated and I lost it in Turn 5. In the end it doesn’t have any consequence (for me),” said the man from Monaco who is trying to make up for lost time after a terrible start to 2023. 

He suggested he will have his work cut out holding off the flying Red Bulls, who have won all three races so far in 2023.

“We will go for it but we also need to be realistic, as of now, we’ve already been on the back foot during the race, especially the Red Bull seems to be a step ahead.”

He added: “I will do everything for it and we are here for that, Ferrari needs to be on top and I will do everything I can to win.”

His teammate Carlos Sainz came fifth to fill the third row with Lewis Hamilton in the other Mercedes.

Alex Albon, Fernando Alonso, Lance Stroll and Lando Norris completed the top five rows of the grid for the 17-lap sprint due off later Saturday.

The sprint offers the winner eight points down to one for eighth.

Red Bull’s double world champion Verstappen leads the championship on 69 points, 15 ahead of Perez.

Two retirements sandwiching a seventh place in Jeddah have left Leclerc lagging well behind with just half a dozen points.

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