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Charles Leclerc left feeling "stupid" and "useless" after Baku crash

Charles Leclerc left feeling
© Reuters
Leclerc will start from ninth on the grid after a crash in Baku.

Charles Leclerc will beat himself up after scuppering his chances of a maiden Formula One victory by crashing out of qualifying in Azerbaijan.

The Ferrari junior headed into Saturday's contest for pole here on the twisty streets of Baku as the commanding favourite after he dominated practice.

But his hopes ended dramatically in the barriers. Valtteri Bottas swooped in to edge out team-mate Lewis Hamilton by just six hundredths of a second, and head an unlikely front-row lockout for Mercedes.

Leclerc's team-mate Sebastian Vettel finished third on an evening Ferrari, in front of their new chairman John Elkann, will want to forget. Red Bull's Max Verstappen was fourth.

Leclerc may have starred in the formative days of his Ferrari career – indeed the build-up to Sunday's race had centred on whether the Scuderia should continue to afford Vettel preferential treatment – but this was his first major error, and didn't he just know it.

"I am stupid, I am stupid," yelled Leclerc over the radio, with the nose of his scarlet car buried in a wall overlooked by Baku's 12th century castle.

Leclerc emerged from the cockpit banging his hands on the top of his Ferrari. He then threw his head back putting his hands to his mouth.

The usually-polite Monegasque rebuffed the approach of a track medic before slumping into the back of a car that whisked him away from the scene of his crime. He is set to start from ninth on the grid.

After a self-deprecating tweet in which he wrote: "I'm useless, no excuses", his dark mood had eased little when he was thrust in front of Sky Sports.

"For the next three or four hours I will be beating myself up," he said. "I have been stupid. Pole was possible today and I threw all the potential in the bin. I am very disappointed."

Elkann shook his head as he watched Leclerc's crash unfold. There was sympathy from Hamilton, however.

"I would be the same," said the British driver, who heads into Sunday's race 31 points clear of Vettel and 32 ahead of Leclerc.

"That is how we are tuned as racing drivers. When it is your mistake, we are tough on ourselves. It is painful.

Azerbaijan F1 GP Auto Racing
Lewis Hamilton can associate with the frustration felt by Charles Leclerc (Sergei Grits/AP)

"Years and years ago I didn't come out of my room for two or three days when I had an experience like that so I understand how he feels.

"It is cool that he is open about it so he can get it out of his system and move forward."

Bottas, who trails Hamilton by six points, snatched pole from the Brit with his final throw of the dice as the sun was setting after an incident-packed qualifying delayed by the best part of an hour.

Leclerc's crash had been a replica of Robert Kubica's accident 45 minutes previously – the Pole compounding the air of misery at Williams by clipping the kerb on the left-handed entry to the castle section and colliding with the wall on the opposing side of the sport's narrowest piece of tarmac.

Azerbaijan F1 GP Auto Racing
Robert Kubica also crashed in Baku (Sergei Grits/AP)

"I am sorry," said the 34-year-old as he apologised on the radio.

The television cameras cut to Claire Williams, the deputy team principal, who looked pensive, perhaps wondering if this weekend could get any worse.

British rookie George Russell, who finished 19th of the 20 drivers – to continue his record of out-qualifying Kubica at every round – is already using the only spare car available to Williams after he hit a loose drain cover in practice and wrote off his chassis.

The struggling team's mechanics now face an almighty repair job to ensure Kubica will be able to take part in the race.

Lando Norris, meanwhile, finished four places ahead of his McLaren team-mate Carlos Sainz in a career-best seventh for the British teenager.

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Valtteri Bottas in action during Chinese GP practice on April 12, 2019
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Sunday's key events

· Wave conditions permitting, surfing will make its Olympic debut (11pm-8.20am)

· Another debutant sport at this Olympics, most eyes will be on American Nyjah Huston in the men's street contest as he looks to add Olympic gold to his four world titles and 12 X-Games golds. (12.30am-5am)

· History beckons for Jade Jones as she looks to become a three-time Olympic champion - something never done before in the sport prior to these Games (2am-1.45pm)
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· Already-legendary gymnast Simone Biles makes her first appearance of the Games in the women's qualifying event (2am-2pm)

· The first swimming medals of the Games will be dished out, with home favourite Daiya Seto going for gold in the men's 400m individual medley (2.30am-4.20am)

· Lizzie Deignan is among the Team GB team looking for success in the women's road race (5am-9.30am)

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