Azerbaijan GP: McLaren’s qualifying debacle throws weekend into chaos

Azerbaijan GP: McLaren’s qualifying debacle throws weekend into chaos

The Azerbaijan GP will be made all the more difficult for McLaren, after the team had one driver crash and another penalised during qualifying.

McLaren‘s chances of holding off Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship at this weekend’s Azerbaijan GP have taken a big hit. A chaotic Saturday qualifying session saw a total of four red flags spread throughout Q1 – Q3.

Early crashes from Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll saw Q1 stopped before all but Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had managed to record a time. Antonio Giovinazzi soon put his Alfa Romeo into the wall, causing another stoppage, with half the field still yet to cross the line.

Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo would both manage times good enough to progress to Q2. However, a front left lockup would result in Ricciardo going into the barriers at Turn 3. After setting a time good enough for 13th.

“Obviously not the way I wanted to end the session,” Ricciardo said. “This track can certainly bite, and it did. Crashing never feels good and I feel for the crew who have to do the work, but that’s what happens when trying to find the limit on a street circuit, and we can still take positives from today. We took a good step in getting more out of the car and understanding it, but it’s still proving tricky to put it all together.

“We’ll keep working and tomorrow’s a long race. A lot of things will happen and, as you saw in quali, there’s probably going to be a bit of chaos. Hopefully we’ve got our trouble out of the way today, so we can push on tomorrow and get after it. We’ve got a free tyre choice, so we’ll see how we can make some opportunities there. It’s all still open, so I’ll just learn from the mistake and progress from here.”

While Norris would ultimately go on to Q3 and secure sixth on the grid, he received a three-place grid penalty, dropping him down to ninth.

The resulting penalty handed down by the stewards after Norris failed to pit following a red flag. Due to the close proximity of Norris to the pit entry at the time of the red flag, he deemed it safer to continue on, rather than trying to enter the pits carrying excessive speed.

“Chaotic quali, as I’m sure it was for everyone,” said Norris. “Finishing P6 on track was ok on a used set of tyres. In the end, we definitely had the potential to do more. I was already up on my final lap on the new tyre before the red flag came out.

“I’m disappointed to be starting P9 after being given a penalty. It’s a tough one to take as I felt I took the safest possible action. That will make things more difficult tomorrow, but we can still fight for good points given the overtaking opportunities in Baku, so let’s see what we can do.”

Just two points ahead of Ferrari in the constructors’ standings, McLaren’s task of staying ahead of the Scuderia is now made all the more difficult. Leclerc will start from pole, with teammate Carlos Sainz will lining up in fifth.

Both Ferrari drivers are set up for a decent point’s haul, while McLaren will have their work cut out to secure another double points finish. However, while Norris and Ricciardo may not be starting Sunday’s race in the most prime of positions. If qualifying is anything to go by, we can expect an action packed race. With plenty of opportunities for overtakes and lead changes brought on by the inevitable safety car.

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