Valtteri Bottas
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas steers his car during the third practice session in Baku on Saturday. Image Credit: AFP

Baku: Valtteri Bottas qualified in pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Saturday after Charles Leclerc’s crash helped to ensure one of the longest qualifying sessions in recent years.

Bottas’ last lap of the session was 1 minute, 40.495 seconds, leaving him 0.059 ahead of teammate and championship leader Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes 1-2. Sebastian Vettel was third for Ferrari, 0.302 off Bottas’ time.

Bottas showed great timing to get a slipstream down the long final straight.

“I got a good tow on the last lap,” said Bottas. “It’s all about fine details and I hit the sweet spot.”

It was Bottas’ second consecutive pole and the third time in four races that Mercedes has locked out the front row.

“It’s been so close all weekend. Ferrari have looked very quick,” said Hamilton, who said another one-two was even sweeter because Ferrari and Red Bull had upgraded their cars for Baku.

“For us to lock out the front row in the circumstances, I’m really grateful for that.”

Leclerc had been fastest in all three practice sessions but crashed his Ferrari and qualified 10th.

“I am stupid, I am stupid, I am stupid,” he said over team radio.

Robert Kubica’s troubled comeback season for Williams continued as he qualified last and crashed at the same spot as Leclerc, a narrow section by the old city walls. The two incidents caused lengthy delays for barrier repairs.

Qualifying was scheduled for one hour but took nearly two, as long as many races. It finished just under 40 minutes before sunset as the track cooled rapidly and the glare of the setting sun dazzled drivers in places.

“It was difficult to find the right balance,” said Vettel. “The car became really difficult to drive.”

Red Bull driver Pierre Gasly will start Sunday’s race from the pit lane after he failed to stop for weighing when asked to do so Friday. Gasly set the fastest time in the first session of qualifying.

Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi qualified eighth but has a 10-place grid penalty for changing his engine electronics.

On Friday, their British rookie driver George Russell escaped unhurt when his car was wrecked after running over a loose drain cover at high speed in opening practice, which was abandoned and cancelled.