Ferrari Looks Fast. Now It Needs to Finish.

Charles Leclerc has done the first part: After turning in the fastest lap in qualifying, he will start the Azerbaijan Grand Prix from pole position on Sunday.

Now he has to do the part that has proved problematic for him this season: Finish the race.

In three starts this year, Leclerc’s Ferrari has been running at the end only once. He was the victim of an engine problem in Bahrain and a first-lap crash in Australia. For the moment, though, Leclerc has his position just right.

He will start just ahead of the season leader, Max Verstappen of Red Bull, on Sunday, and one row in front of his Ferrari teammate, Carlos Sainz, and the other Red Bull, driven by Sergio Pérez. Qualifying ahead of them was heartening. Staying ahead of all of them on Sunday — on the tight corners of a Baku circuit famed for causing chaos — will be much more difficult.

Time: The Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday starts at 7 a.m. Eastern, which is 3 p.m. local time on the Baku City Circuit.

TV: The race will air on ESPN in the United States, starting with prerace coverage at 5:30 a.m. Eastern. Not in America? A full list of Formula 1 broadcasters, for wherever you are, can be found here.

Ferrari and Red Bull were the fastest cars in qualifying. (Yes, that sounds familiar.) Lewis Hamilton will start fifth in his suddenly resurgent Mercedes.

Hamilton’s team will be less happy about seeing his partner, George Russell, way down the grid in 11th after a disappointing qualifying session. Verstappen would rather not see Russell at all on Sunday after he and the Mercedes driver collided in the sprint race on Saturday.

Can anyone keep up with Red Bull? Yes, that’s a story line every week. No, no one has done it yet.

Are their pursuers starting to close the gap? Ferrari is in pole position and will line up first and third. Lewis Hamilton, sounding recharged after a month off, followed a podium finish in Australia with a solid qualifying run in his Mercedes. Aston Martin’s ageless Fernando Alonso was right near the leader again. Red Bull’s dominance — three races, three victories — has been the story of the Formula 1 season, but did its pursuers put their time off to good use in the garage? Not so fast, said Leclerc: “We’ll go for it, but we need also to be realistic, and until now we have been on the back foot in the race. Especially the Red Bull seems to be a step ahead, so let’s see how it is.”

Watch for some ring rust. Pierre Gasly and Nyck De Vries both crashed in qualifying on Friday, and Yuki Tsunoda and Logan Sargeant did the same on Saturday — a day when the real sparks came after Verstappen and Russell collided together during the sprint race. Was that a reflection of the tight angles on Baku’s street course, or the fact that this is the first race in four weeks? It’s worth watching Sunday for those kind of split-second moments, which can spoil a day — or change a race — in an instant.

The biggest talking point of the weekend was the contact between George Russell and Max Verstappen on the first lap of Saturday’s sprint race, where Russell put a hole in the side of Verstappen’s Red Bull and Verstappen sounded as if he wanted to do the same to Russell.

Cameras caught their brief exchange afterward, which began with Russell appearing to shrug off the accident as a result of cold tires and ended with Verstappen issuing a warning that he might return the favor one day.

The verbal sparring continued in the drivers’ postrace interviews:

  • Verstappen: “I respect all the drivers a lot, and it’s a bit of common sense as well what you do on the first lap. They are off the pace and to risk that much in Lap 1 is not very rewarding, because I will get him anyway within a few laps.”

  • Russell: “He’s got enough experience to know that if you’re trying to overtake a guy on the outside there’s a risk the guy on the inside is going to run wide into you.”

  • Verstappen: “He tells me, ‘Yeah, I got cold tires.’ We all have cold tires. That’s not an excuse.”

  • Russell: “There was a lot of F’s and whatnot from his side. From my side, I was on the inside and was quite surprised he was resisting it so much. I’m here to fight. The move was on.”

Results of the third race of the season, the Australian Grand Prix on April 2:

Sergio Pérez won the 17-lap sprint race on Saturday, picking up points that cut his deficit behind Verstappen, the leader in the season standings. Leclerc finished second, a result that more than doubled his season points total. “One thing for sure,” he said of his performance on Saturday. “It shows how bad the first three races were.”

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