Charles Leclerc on F1 pole position after crash-filled day at Azerbaijan Grand Prix

F1 Azerbaijan crashes
OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images
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BAKU, Azerbaijan — Charles Leclerc won his second consecutive F1 pole position, again under the red flag because one of several crashes Saturday stopped qualifying, to earn the top starting spot for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Leclerc set his time of 1 minute, 41.218 seconds early in the third session. Championship leader Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton were among the drivers just starting their late flying laps when Yuki Tsunoda hit the wall and then Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz crashed right behind Tsunoda.

It brought an immediate end to the session and put Leclerc on pole for the second consecutive grand prix.

It was Leclerc who crashed his Ferrari to end qualifying at the Monaco Grand Prix two weeks ago. Though he retained his starting position at his home track, he didn’t race because repairs to his car were not completed in time.

“It feels very good, on the other hand, it was with a red flag again, so I wish we had it under normal track, but at the end a pole is a pole,” Leclerc said.

Tsunoda’s crash brought out the fourth red flag of the qualifying session and stopped any challenge to Leclerc.

Hamilton was 0.232 seconds off the pace in second – a rebound after Mercedes had struggled to match Red Bull and Ferrari in practice. Verstappen took third, 0.113 seconds back.

Lance Stroll and Antonio Giovinazzi both went off at the same corner in the first qualifying session before setting a time, and Daniel Ricciardo crashed in the second session. The Australian is in his first season with McLaren but has finished behind teammate Lando Norris in four of five races so far this year.

Earlier Saturday morning in final practice, F1 points leader Max Verstappen crashed as Pierre Gasly set the fastest time.

Verstappen ran wide on a narrow left-hand corner in the old town section while pushing to match the pace of his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez. The low-speed impact with the barrier on the exit broke the suspension on Verstappen’s car.

The session was stopped so Verstappen’s stranded car could be recovered. The Dutch driver was visibly frustrated to have his preparation for Saturday’s qualifying session disrupted and placed 15th from limited running.

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.