Leclerc says possible tree branch on track triggered start of fall from pole to P4 in Baku
Charles Leclerc said he expected to drop from his P1 starting position once the race got under way in Baku. What he didn't expect, however, was to be stumped by a tree branch at Turn 15, which planted the seeds for his fall down the order...
The Monegasque driver suffered disappointment at home last time out as damage from his Q3 crash in Monaco cost him a chance to start the race from pole. But in Baku, he qualified on pole and started from there, but lost time at Turn 15 on the first lap and fell into the clutches of Lewis Hamilton and third-place starter Max Verstappen.
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He revealed that a piece of debris on track caused him to slow at that corner on Lap 1, after which Hamilton swept by – Verstappen taking P2 five laps later.
After being asked: "Was it a branch or something that fell on track and made you cut the chicane?" Leclerc replied: "Yeah, that wasn’t great. I have no idea what that was. I saw the slippery track in Turn 15 and then I got quite surprised with this thing there, so I had to go out, and then I slowed down… and unfortunately that’s where it started to slip away from us, because we got overtaken by Lewis and then it was a bit more difficult in dirty air.
“We knew that Max, the Red Bulls and Mercedes had quite a bit more pace than us on the long runs, so I tried to not fight them too much. I tried to focus on my own race,” he added.
“So a bit of a shame, but this [the debris on track] is not the cause of our P4 anyway today; we would have got overtaken a bit later,” he said.
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Leclerc's former Ferrari team mate Sebastian Vettel finished second in Baku, while Pierre Gasly took the final podium place having held Leclerc off in the final two laps of the race – after a re-start following race leader Max Verstappen’s high-speed crash on Lap 46.
And it was that fight with Gasly that Leclerc said was his favourite part of the race. “I really enjoyed the last part," he said, "but the first part of the race wasn’t great. It was, let’s say, as expected; it wasn’t a huge disappointment. It was expected."
Foliage-based frustrations aside, the pole-sitter said he was most astonished by Aston Martin’s pace, Vettel having taken a podium with Lance Stroll also a contender for points until his Lap 31 crash.
“I think the two big surprises of today are the two Aston Martins that were flying, and we need to understand it because they definitely did something right today,” Leclerc concluded.
Ferrari are third in the standings heading to the French Grand Prix, ahead of McLaren, while Leclerc is fifth in the Drivers’ Championship – behind McLaren’s Lando Norris.