With a deficit of over a second in qualifying to the pole-sitting Mercedes AMG F1 of Lewis Hamilton, one would think that neither Ferrari of third placed Kimi Raikkonen or Sebastian Vettel in fourth place would have much chance of a shot at victory for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Hamilton overtook the career pole position tally of his idol Ayrton Senna as he was 0.434 seconds faster than teammate Valtteri Bottas around the 20-turn, 6.003km Baku City Circuit, which is an unusual mix of long and wide straights, extremely narrow and twisty corners and 90 degree turns.
However, despite the deficit, Ferrari is confident of having good race pace, particularly in light of the fact that Mercedes tend to use a special mode for qualifying that turns up the power well beyond the reach of any other engine supplier.
With difficulties in getting the tyres to work at their best over a single lap, Ferrari’s problems were exacerbated.
A win for Hamilton would be crucial for the drivers’ world championship as Vettel’s lead would be cut to just five points if the German finishes second to the former three-time world champion.
Behind the top four, Red Bull-Renault came to Azerbaijan with a few more updates and looked fast in practice, but it turned out to be more down to the chaotic events that saw – among others – a mighty crash for Sergio Perez at the very tight turn eight.
Max Verstappen qualified fifth, just 0.038 seconds behind Vettel. The Force India-Mercedes cars of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon were sixth and seventh while Williams-Mercedes’ Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll were eighth and ninth.
Tenth went to Red Bull-Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, who was unable to improve on his time as he hit the wall on the outside of turn six, which stopped the session with just a few minutes remaining.