Azerbaijan produced another thrilling qualifying session as Charles Leclerc stunned the field to make it back to back pole positions. This time, the Ferrari driver kept his car out of the barriers.
However, there was more red flag controversy as both Q2 and Q3 came to an early end due to crashes at Turn 3 for Daniel Ricciardo, Yuki Tsunoda and Carlos Sainz,
Leclerc will share the front row of the grid with Lewis Hamilton who made a remarkable recovery after a difficult weekend leading up to qualifying.
Max Verstappen was livid with his Q3 performance and will start from third place as he looks to retain his championship lead on Sunday.
Ferrari's Monaco form was not a one-off
Ferrari were widely expected to drop back following their strong showing in Monaco but Leclerc pulled off a great lap when it mattered most.
Leclerc actually thought his lap was "quite sh*t" but it was enough to redeem himself from his 2019 crash in Baku which likely cost him pole position on that particular day.
The Ferrari looks easy to drive and on a track like Baku which punishes the drivers, that's exactly what you want. A handy slipstream from Hamilton on Leclerc's Q3 run helped him to top spot but even without the tow, it would have been a very good lap from Leclerc.
Whether Leclerc can hang onto the lead is another question, but over one lap the Ferrari looks like it can be a major threat to Red Bull and Mercedes for the rest of 2021 due to it's incredible mechanical grip.
Hamilton's and Mercedes' heroics
Things looked dismal for the world champions going into qualifying but a huge swing with the setup on Hamilton's car got the tyres into a nice operating window.
It came from nowhere and Hamilton's reaction showed how tough things were at Mercedes and that they genuinely thought they were in trouble.
Mercedes' comeback from a torrid Friday and Saturday practice showed exactly why they've won seven consecutive world titles. It's their resilience and ability to dig themselves out of a rabbit hole, as Christian Horner alluded to, which has made them so dominant.
Valtteri Bottas towed Hamilton around which helped in Q3, but already in Q1 and Q2 Hamilton looked visibly more comfortable and the decision to use a low downforce rear wing paid off and could be a factor during the Grand Prix.
Red Bull miss an open goal
Everything pointed towards a Red Bull pole position but when it mattered most, Verstappen and Sergio Perez failed to get the most out of their machines.
Verstappen simply could not put a lap together, failing to go fastest in any of the sectors on his first Q3 run. Tsunoda's crash brought Q3 to an early end so we will never know whether Verstappen would have gone faster, whilst Perez made a mistake at Turn 4 which is why he could only manage seventh.
Red Bull had a golden opportunity to lock out the front row and had the pace to do so but they dropped the ball and have made their life more difficult for the race.
We will have to wait to see whether Red Bull's average Saturday will cost them when the points are given out on Sunday.
The great Gasly
Pierre Gasly produced a sublime lap in Q3 to qualify fourth. At one point, it looked like Gasly was going to take pole position having set the fastest first sector of the session.
Nevertheless, it was a brilliant effort and the French driver continues to show his talent and raw speed. Yuki Tsunoda has had a good weekend too up until his crash as the AlphaTauri worked well around the 6.003km of Baku.
There's a big chance of a strong haul of point for AlphaTauri in Baku.
Drivers not happy with traffic
There was a lot of disgruntlement on the team radios about drivers being too aggressive on the outlaps. Perez in particular was not happy with drivers overtaking one another and racing each other in the pitlane to try and get track position.
Perez feels that many drivers did not respect the gentleman's agreement despite stricter rules being put in place for this weekend's Azerbaijan GP by FIA race director Michael Masi.
Sebastian Vettel had a close call with the Red Bull drivers in Q2 whilst on a few occasions the number one mechanics, the person who runs backwards out of the garage to signal their driver when to go, were put in danger.
A change in red flag regulations?
Azerbaijan qualifying saw four red flags including Q2 and Q3 ending prematurely. After Leclerc's slightly controversial pole lap in Monaco, when he brought out the red flag, discussions are set to ramp up due to many driver's having their laps ruined through no fault of their own.
Verstappen called qualifying "stupid" whilst Fernando Alonso, who qualified ninth, believes the Formula 1 needs to look at the red flag rules as drivers who have made a mistake are not being punished enough according to the Alpine driver.
Formula 1 could look at options such as extending sessions if there is a red flag within the final two minutes of a qualifying segment or punishing drivers who cause a red flag such as deleting their best lap time.
A classic on the cards?
Azerbaijan had thrown up some of the most wild moments in F1's turbo-hybrid era and Sunday's race could be another classic.
This season has already seen Verstappen and Hamilton go wheel to wheel in the opening four races and the Red Bull driver will be desperate to make up for qualifying with a win on a circuit where he has never been on the podium.
It will take a remarkable drive from Leclerc to hold off the championship protagonists and Hamilton's slim rear wing could be vital on Baku's long 2.2km flat out section from the exit of Turn 16 down to Turn 1.
The starting grid has all the makings for an exciting race in Azerbaijan.