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‘The whole team needed it’ says Leclerc after taking first pole of 2023

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BAKU, AZERBAIJAN - APRIL 28: Pole position qualifier Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari talks

Charles Leclerc took his and Ferrari's first pole position of 2023 with a blistering effort around Baku which will see him start first for Sunday's Azerbaijan Grand Prix – and he said Friday evening's result came as a relief.

Leclerc took his 19th career pole position, and his first since Singapore 2022, by beating Red Bull's Max Verstappen in a Friday qualifying session that set the grid for Sunday's Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

READ MORE: Leclerc beats Verstappen in qualifying thriller for third straight Azerbaijan GP pole

After rumours linking him with Mercedes, plus the announcement that Ferrari's Sporting Director Laurent Mekies will leave Ferrari to lead AlphaTauri when current boss Franz Tost departs, Leclerc was relieved to take pole.

"It feels good for, I think the whole team needed it," he said, "because we arrive here where… it’s a part of our job I think any teams in Formula 1, you need to deal with rumours, pressure, and it’s obviously a bit more difficult to perform under those circumstances and we did really well, so I think it’s good for the whole team."

2023 Azerbaijan GP Qualifying: Charles Leclerc crosses the line to seal pole position in Baku

The Monegasque driver has endured a winless start to 2023 as Red Bull swept the first three rounds, and Leclerc said he didn't expect to be fighting for pole in Azerbaijan.

"[It feels] really good especially considering the beginning of season I’ve had. Obviously we haven’t had the greatest of beginnings but it’s great to be back on pole.

"I didn’t expect it and I think we came into the weekend thinking it would already be a great result if we were in front of the Astons and Mercedes and now we find ourselves on pole.

HIGHLIGHTS: Watch the action from a thrilling qualifying in Baku as Leclerc stuns Red Bull to take pole

"Really really happy with that, but we need to see obviously tomorrow with the Sprint race and for Sunday’s race, and I think we are a little bit more on the back foot there – but anyway, it’s a really good surprise and extremely happy with my lap," he said.

Ferrari entered Baku fourth in the constructors' standings but there are plenty of points on offer as the first Sprint – plus the first-ever Sprint Shootout – take place on Saturday.

2023 Azerbaijan GP FP1: Sainz clips the wall in first practice session in Baku

Having qualified fourth, Leclerc's team mate Carlos Sainz said he was "lacking in confidence" throughout Friday.

He explained: "Since FP1 I wasn't feeling quite at home with the car; the car looked very quick but for some reason I couldn't get my feeling and couldn't get my groove with the car today and, obviously with a lack of practice, I couldn't catch up on it and from the beginning of Q1 I was just lacking in confidence, lacking in rhythm..."

WATCH: Nyck de Vries and Pierre Gasly crash out of Azerbaijan Grand Prix qualifying

The Spaniard added that he used two sets of soft tyres in Q1, which prevented him from having an extra set of softs in Q3, and he seemed to lament the fact that parc ferme restrictions mean the car's set-up will essentially be unchanged for the rest of the weekend. Yet, Sainz said qualifying P4 was still a decent result.

"I guess we have some work overnight to see what we can do with the car," he concluded. "We've got to gain the confidence back and try and get some feeling back with the car. We will play around with things but we are quite limited… the best of today's actually being P4 given I felt really far away from where I want to be."

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