After spending much of the Baku race weekend downplaying his chances of repeating his Monaco feat, Leclerc scored his second straight pole position after topping Q3 ahead of Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
A red flag at the end of the session prevented any drivers from improving on their first efforts, meaning Leclerc’s benchmark of 1m41.218s stood for pole.
A number of drivers were left frustrated by their track position in the first Q3 run as they jostled to try and get behind another car so they could pick up a tow.
But after noticing Mercedes was giving its drivers two warm-up laps before going onto a push lap, Ferrari looked to take advantage and position Leclerc behind Hamilton.
“It’s always a compromise between wanting a tow and going at the end of the group and having the risk too late, to have a yellow or red in front of you,” explained Ferrari sporting director Mekies.
“On the other hand, going in the front of the queue, and having a clean outlap but losing quite a few tenths of slipstream. It is a compromise in that case.”
Ferrari was able to position Leclerc so he gradually got closer to Hamilton throughout his lap, allowing him to pick up a slipstream through the fast final sector and long start/finish straight, boosting him to pole position.
Polesitter Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
Photo by: FIA Pool
“It was perfectly timed,” Mekies said.
“Mercedes was doing a prep lap. We knew about it, Charles knew about it, he timed his outlap perfectly, building up the right gap to land pretty much on Lewis’s gearbox for the final straight for him.
“It was definitely a super job from his side, and altogether, his team did very good managing a difficult qualifying.”
Leclerc will enter Sunday’s race trying to capitalise on his surprise pole position, having failed to start last time out in Monaco due to damage sustained in a qualifying crash.
Mekies was sceptical Ferrari had the outright pace to win in Baku, though, believing it would require a defensive race from the whole team to protect its advantage.
“We expect a tough fight, because we will not have the pace to fight for the win, so it’s going to be a defensive race,” Mekies said.
“The important thing is we develop as a team, and the results like [Saturday] are encouragement to do so.”