“I am stupid. I am stupid.” Those were the tortured words of Charles Leclerc as his Ferrari came to rest in the Baku barriers during the second segment of qualifying. The anguish was understandable. Up to that point, the 21-year-old appeared odds-on to become this season’s first repeat polesitter, having been fastest in every practice leading into Saturday’s session and red-hot in Q1.
But then with a little under eight minutes of Q2 remaining, with Leclerc fifth and having already seemingly secured his passage to the Q3 pole position shoot-out, the Monegasque driver got it all wrong at the ultra-tight Turn 8 and ploughed head first into the barriers.
Leclerc then had the ignominy of watching from the garage as runaway championship leaders Mercedes - winners of the first three races of the year, all with one-two finishes - took a front-row lockout ahead of the second Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel.
Qualifying: Leclerc's pole hopes end early with big Q2 shunt
Afterwards, a hugely disappointed Leclerc didn’t hold back in a damning self-assessment of his own performance, tweeting “I’ve been useless” before delivering a scathing verdict to TV cameras.
“I deserved what happened today. Very sad for what happened, but I deserve it. I’ve been stupid as I said on the radio. I’ve calmed down but I still think I’ve been stupid – this doesn’t change. I will push to learn from this and come back stronger and hopefully have a very good race tomorrow.
“But yeah I deserve it. I don’t want to say anything stupid, but looking at FP1, FP2, FP3 and Quali 1, pole was possible today and I threw all the potential in the bin. I’m very disappointed and I’ll come back stronger from this.”
Asked whether the crash was down to a simple lapse of concentration, Leclerc said: “Not really, I just tried to put a bit more brake – actually I don’t think I put more brakes, I just braked as much as I did on the soft (tyre) but obviously I was on the medium and I locked up.
“Again, I don’t want it to be misunderstood, there was no problem with the tyres, it was just myself. So I’m very disappointed.”
Despite the shunt, Leclerc looks set to line up ninth on the grid for Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix – provided his SF90 doesn’t require engine or gearbox changes. And with the form he was in prior to the crash and the potential for Safety Cars in Baku, the Ferrari star – who lost a near-certain victory in Bahrain two events ago because of an engine issue - was certainly not writing off his race chances.
“No, definitely [not]. You can definitely overtake and I will push for that tomorrow. But for now, for the next three or four hours, I’ll just be beating myself up…”
Charles Leclerc's 'stupid' Azerbaijan qualifying