From one street course to another, albeit after a month long gap and it’s Formula 1 time now that the extensively challenging, spine bending and energy sapping Azerbaijan Grand Prix of 2023 is upon us.
Though, if you go purely by the looks of it, then as far as Q2 was concerned on Friday at Azerbaijan, there wasn’t much of a chance for Ferrari to swing to the first row of the qualifying battle.
Sergio Perez was treading decently and well
enough to top the time lines. The Ferrari duo, albeit not too far off from the Red Bull pack, were playing catch up.
Max Verstappen, despite seeming in some sort of trouble with his headrest position, was flying out there.
But it took something remarkable and rather unprecedented on the part of Ferrari’s younger driver to grab pole position having set strangely identical times to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen just a bit earlier.
That Charles Leclerc did ultimately bag the pole, setting a blazing 1:40:203, enabled him to usurp the man leading the points table by nearly 0.2 seconds.
Max was overcome by an instance of maximum attack by Leclerc and everyone could see red for a while.
Finally, a belter of a Ferrari performance at a belter of a fast track, even as this was just the quali with the main battle about to undergo shortly in the next few hours.
Interestingly, in the profess of grabbing his first ever pole for the 2023 season, Charles set his third pole here at Baku on the bounce.
But was that always in the offing? Was that even remotely close to being certain?
Only the opposite is true as where the Australian Grand Prix was concerned, which was round three of the ongoing championship, Leclerc was so far off the Red Bull and Aston Martin race pace as is Nicaragua from New Delhi.
There was little that went right about one of the most capable and promising talents out there.
While he’d face heartbreak at Melbourne Park, the biggest question especially from the point of view of Ferrari, is whether Leclerc can experience some redemption at Azerbaijan?
It’s worthy to note that last year, despite starting from pole at the 51-lap long contest, Leclerc had retired come the twenty first lap with his Ferrari beginning to emit smoke presumably emanating from an engine woe.
That was that; with tens of thousands gutted, Ferrari’s chances blew up mid air given both their drivers had retired.
This time around, the hopes are high and what’s needed is immense self belief especially at the back of the Australian GP outcome that was disconcerting to be precise.
While Sainz missed out on the podium, another race retirement clung onto the Ferrari main man.
In these last four weeks, the kind of messages flowing in towards Charles Leclerc’s support have ranged from trolling to excessive emotional expression.
Too many; he’s still not good enough. But to the rest who harvest the hope of seeing Ferrari experience a new red dawn, he’s the go-to man.
Together with Carlos, Charles can invoke the dream that all of Tifosi aspire to realise with a red car thumping much of the rest.
But what’s needed now is a mega drive to resuscitate not just his 2023 season that, as of now, is going nowhere.
That will mean containing Max who’ll attack like a shark, for in Verstappen’s unsparing vision, the rest are predators on the Tarmac.
And it doesn’t end there; it’ll mean speeding up so very well that the trinity of Perez, Sainz and Hamilton can be kept at bay.
Truth be told, if there’s one man who can do that by virtue of sheer recent experience and raw pace, then it’s Charles Leclerc.
His hasn’t quite been a romance here at Azerbaijan, it’s been a relatively short term unfulfilled love; up to this point, he’s never been able to convert a pole into a win here at Baku.
But as they say in Formula 1, as also in life, there’s always a first time.
Should Leclerc actually cross the checkered flag and be the first man of the twenty on Sunday to do so, it might replenish a season that has so far been doused in a dash of hope and disarray.