Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc edged out Lando Norris in practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix which was red-flagged on two occasions.

A combined 30-minute delay wiped out half of the one-hour session after Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg both crashed out.

Leclerc saw off Norris by just 0.043 seconds, with Max Verstappen third, 0.173 sec off the pace. George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finished sixth and eighth respectively for Mercedes.

A week after he smashed into a loose drain cover in Las Vegas, Sainz was in the wars again, but on this occasion it was through driver error.

Sainz – who appeared to be put off by another car arriving from the pits – lost control of his machine through turn three and ended up in the barrier.

Although the Spaniard was unharmed in the high-speed smash – with the running just eight-and-a-half minutes old – he sustained significant damage to his car; with the sidepods, floor, rear suspension and front wing of his Ferrari all destroyed.

Sainz’s impact also left the barrier in a mess and a 22-minute delay ensued as the tyre wall was repaired.

But only moments after the running re-started, the red flag was out again – this time after Nico Hulkenberg crashed on the exit of turn one.

On cold tyres, the German was too hasty on the throttle, sliding into the barrier before stopping in his wounded machine.

The stoppages arrived as a blow to half the grid who sat out the opening session as 10 rookie drivers were blooded at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Mercedes are looking to hang on to second in the constructors’ championship and are only four points ahead of Ferrari with one race to go.

And the troubled team will be alarmed by Leclerc’s speed as the Monegasque, on pole position in Las Vegas, topped the order.

Russell finished three tenths adrift of Leclerc while Hamilton, who made way for the team’s Danish junior driver Frederik Vesti in the opening running, was half-a-second back.

Mercedes’ sluggish pace also leaves the grid’s once-dominant team facing up to a winless season – their first since 2011.

In the day’s first running, British drivers Zak O’Sullivan, 18, and Jake Dennis, 28, made their Formula One weekend debuts for Williams and Red Bull respectively.

Ollie Bearman, 18, who in Mexico became the youngest British debutant at a Grand Prix, was handed his second practice appearance by Haas.

Dennis, in Verstappen’s Red Bull machine which Hamilton has described as the fastest ever seen in F1, finished 16th of the 20 runners, 1.1 sec off the pace.

O’Sullivan was 18th – seven tenths behind Williams’ Logan Sargeant – with Bearman 20th and last, albeit only a tenth slower than Kevin Magnussen in the other Haas.

Max Verstappen compared Formula One’s £500million Las Vegas Grand Prix to the fifth tier of English football – and suggested the sport’s new generation of fans are only interested in partying.

Verstappen will start from second place for Saturday’s 50-lap race on the strip after Charles Leclerc put his Ferrari on pole position with a dazzling lap under the Las Vegas lights.

F1 has sold the sport’s Sin City comeback after four decades away as the greatest show on Earth, but fans witnessed just eight minutes of practice on Thursday after a drain cover broke free and tore a hole into the underbelly of Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari.

A delayed second practice – which concluded at 4am on Friday local time – took place in front of empty grandstands after angry spectators were turfed out to comply with local employment laws.

An estimated crowd of 70,000 watched qualifying on Friday night while organisers had been expecting 100,000 attendees each day.

Earlier this week, Verstappen criticised F1’s maiden street race on the strip as “99 per cent show, and one per cent sport”. And in the moments after qualifying, he took another swipe at the event.

“Monaco is Champions League and this is National League,” he said.

“I feel like the show is important, but I like emotion. When I was a little kid it was all about the emotion of the sport that I fell in love with and not the show. As a real racer the show shouldn’t matter.

“An F1 car does not come alive on a street circuit. It is not that exciting. It is about proper race tracks. And when you go to Monza and Spa, these kinds of places have a lot of emotion and passion, and for me seeing the fans there is incredible. When I jump in the car, I am fired up. I love driving at these kind of places.

“I understand fans need things to do around the track, but it is more important that they understand what we do as a sport. Most of them just come to have a party, drink, see a DJ, or a performance act.

“I can do that all over the world. I can go to Ibiza and get completely s***-faced and have a good time. People come here, but they become a fan of what? They want to see maybe their favourite artist and have a few drinks with their mates, and then go out and have a crazy night.

“But they don’t understand what we are doing, and they don’t understand what we are putting on the line to perform.”

John Legend and Kylie Minogue were among a number of high-profile artists to perform in a dazzling 30-minute Superbowl-style show here on Wednesday, designed to kick-start the penultimate round of the season in style.

Verstappen and his fellow drivers were introduced to the crowd via an elevating platform. Verstappen, who secured his third world title in Qatar last month, later said he felt like a “clown”.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, he continued: “As a little kid I grew up wanting to become a world champion. More time should be invested into the actual sport, and what we are trying to achieve.

“The sport should explain what the team has done throughout the season, and what they are working for. That’s way more important than having these random shows all over the place. I am not passionate about that. I like passion and emotion.

“I love Vegas, but not to drive an F1 car. I love to go out, have a few drinks, throw everything on red and be crazy, but emotion and passion is not there compared to the old-school tracks.”

Despite starting behind Leclerc when the lights go out at 10pm local time here on Saturday (6am Sunday GMT), Verstappen will be favourite to take his 18th win of the season. George Russell will line up from third but Lewis Hamilton will start only 10th.

Hamilton, who finished half-a-second behind team-mate Russell, said: “I was lacking confidence and grip. I struggled.

“Yesterday, the car felt better and I was more competitive and I made changes overnight and it didn’t feel great today. I have got a lot of work to do.”

Charles Leclerc danced his way to pole position with an emphatic performance for Ferrari under the Las Vegas lights.

At just after 1am local time – the latest conclusion to a qualifying session in Formula One history – Leclerc finished just 0.044 seconds clear of team-mate Carlos Sainz.

However, Sainz will start down in 12th after a loose drain cover destroyed his Ferrari in practice and triggered a 10-place grid penalty.

Triple world champion Max Verstappen, a winner in 17 of the 20 rounds so far, took third spot for Red Bull, but will move up to second following Sainz’s demotion. Lewis Hamilton was eliminated in Q2, leaving him only 10th on the grid.

Hamilton finished half-a-second behind team-mate George Russell, who hauled his Mercedes into Q3 before taking advantage of Sainz’s penalty to secure third on the grid for Saturday’s 50-lap race.

Following the shambolic start to F1’s Sin City comeback here on Thursday night, qualifying passed off without significant incident – much to the relief of the sport’s under-fire bosses.

F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali stopped short of issuing an apology to the furious spectators, who saw just eight minutes of practice before they were ejected from the stands.

However, in the early hours of Saturday morning, the estimated 90,000 fans who filled the 3.8-mile street venue – 30,000 down on capacity – were treated to an uninterrupted session which saw Leclerc romp to top spot in his scarlet machine.

“I am happy,” said Leclerc. “To have first place in Las Vegas is great.

“I was a bit disappointed because my lap was not great but it was all we needed. In the race we usually lack pace but hopefully we can put it all together in the race.”

Against the backdrop of Caesars Palace, the MGM Grand and Bellagio hotels, Ferrari delivered, but it was another underwhelming showing for Hamilton.

A fortnight after the seven-time world champion finished eighth in Brazil – 63 seconds behind winner Verstappen – he struggled for pace in his underperforming Mercedes.

“Couldn’t go faster, mate,” said Hamilton following his elimination. Behind Hamilton, Sergio Perez qualified one place back.

Lando Norris arrived in Nevada as the grid’s in-form driver after scoring more points across the last three rounds than anyone else.

But the British driver failed to make it out of Q2 with his McLaren machinery not suited to the three long straights here coupled with slow corners.

He qualified only 16th, three places ahead of team-mate Oscar Piastri who also fell at the first hurdle.

“Very disappointed,” said McLaren CEO Zak Brown. “We thought we’d struggle this weekend but I didn’t think either car would be out in Q1.

“Not a good start to the weekend and now all we can do is focus on the race tomorrow.”

Formula One bosses were dealt a hugely embarrassing blow after first practice for the Las Vegas Grand Prix was cancelled.

The running under the lights of the Las Vegas strip was suspended when Carlos Sainz broke down in his Ferrari with just eight minutes on the clock.

And then 11 minutes later, at 8:49pm local time, it was announced the session would not be resumed – it emerged Sainz’s failure was caused by a loose manhole cover.

Television replays showed Sainz being jolted in his cockpit as the cover struck the underneath of his machine as he approached 200mph on the Las Vegas Boulevard.

Esteban Ocon also smashed into the debris – against the backdrop of Caesars Palace, Bellagio and Venetian hotels – causing significant damage to his Alpine.

Ferrari described the damage to Sainz’s car as “extensive”, while Alpine said Ocon will require a new chassis.

Ferrari team principal Frederic Masseur said: “He (Sainz) said I hit something on track, and he didn’t know what it was. It is just unacceptable for F1.”

An FIA spokesperson said: “Following an inspection, a concrete frame around a manhole cover has failed.

“We now need to check all of the other manhole covers which will take some time.

“We will be discussing with the local circuit engineering team about the length of time it will take to resolve and we will update with any resultant changes to the schedule.”

Second practice is due to begin at midnight local time (8:00 GMT). But there are significant doubts if there will be any running today at the 3.8-mile temporary street venue.

Speaking on Sky Sports, the highly-respected TV pundit and former driver Martin Brundle, said: “That’s it for today from my experience.

“Fixing that and checking everything else, letting it dry and making sure it won’t come out again is going to be a big job.

“Theoretically, they are going to re-open the Strip (for public use) after the F1 practice sessions. That is a very, very big issue if there are other areas like that around the track.”

The problems of loose manhole covers at street venues is not a new one in the sport.

Jenson Button struck a dislodged drain in practice in Monaco in 2016, while George Russell also ran over a drain cover in Azerbaijan four years ago.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said on Sky: “It’s a shame that we are not allowed on track.

“They are going to have to check all the manhole covers and weld them or do something because you can see the damage that it has done.

“It’s a great shame for the fans but safety comes first. We have got to get this right and hopefully it won’t take too long.”

The cancellation of opening practice comes 24 hours after triple world champion criticised the staging of the Las Vegas Grand Prix – the first here in four decades and maiden event on the strip – as “99 per cent show, and one per cent sport”.

Formula One bosses were dealt a hugely embarrassing blow after first practice for the Las Vegas Grand Prix was cancelled.

The running under the lights of the Las Vegas strip was initially suspended when Carlos Sainz broke down in his Ferrari with just eight minutes on the clock.

And then 11 minutes later at 8:49pm local time, it was announced the session would not be resumed after it emerged Esteban Ocon smashed into a drain cover.

An FIA spokesperson said: “Following inspection, it was the concrete frame around a manhole cover that has failed.

“We now need to check all of the other manhole covers which will take some time.

“We will be discussing with the local circuit engineering team about the length of time it will take to resolve and will update with any resultant changes to the schedule.”

Max Verstappen saw off Lewis Hamilton’s early challenge to claim victory in Saturday’s sprint race at the United States Grand Prix.

For the first time since their 2021 championship duel for the ages, Verstappen and Hamilton ran line astern in the 19-lap dash at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas.

But Hamilton was unable to prevent Verstappen from taking the spoils, and accumulating yet another win of this most one-sided of Formula One campaigns.

Hamilton took the chequered flag a distant 9.4 seconds adrift of Verstappen with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc third.

Verstappen, crowned champion of the world for a third time in Qatar a fortnight ago, took pole position earlier on Saturday and then put his elbows out at the start to ensure Leclerc did not sneak up his inside on the uphill drag to the opening bend.

Verstappen moved over to his left to squeeze the Ferrari man allowing Hamilton a clean shot at Leclerc on the exit of the first corner.

Hamilton ran over the kerbs and past the Monegasque, and then set his sights on Verstappen.

Hamilton has not won a race for nearly two years, the longest losing streak of his career. Indeed, 685 days have passed since he claimed victory at the penultimate round of the 2021 campaign in Saudi Arabia.

But for half-a-dozen laps here, Hamilton will have dared to dream that a victory could be on the cards.

Hamilton has triumphed six times in America – with five of those victories in the Lone Star State – and his early pace certainly provided Verstappen with food for thought.

The seven-time world champion stayed within one second of Verstappen to provide him with a possible DRS slingshot past his Red Bull rival.

“Driveability is not there,” moaned Verstappen on the radio. “I lost the rear completely.”

Hamilton then hinted his nemesis was gaining an advantage by using more of the track than is allowed.

“Max has gone off quite a few times,” said the Mercedes driver.

Hamilton has lauded the improvements from his updated machine, but the superiority of Verstappen’s Red Bull came to the fore.

Six laps had passed and Verstappen was suddenly out of DRS range. A slim hope of victory for Hamilton was dashed.

Yet the 38-year-old, who starts third for tomorrow’s 56-lap main event, will expect to be a contender again.

And his chances of a possible win will be aided by Verstappen starting only in sixth after his pole lap in Friday’s qualifying was deleted for exceeding track limits.

Lando Norris took fourth spot ahead of Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, with Carlos Sainz sixth.

George Russell finished seventh but was demoted to eighth after he served a five-second penalty for an illegal move on McLaren’s Oscar Piastri.

Lewis Hamilton raised the prospect of challenging Max Verstappen for pole position at the United States Grand Prix after he finished third in practice.

Hamilton trailed Verstappen by 0.281 seconds in the sole running before qualifying later on Friday with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc splitting the rivals.

But the seven-time world champion, in his upgraded Mercedes, clocked the fastest first and second sectors before hitting traffic in the final part of his speediest lap at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas.

Verstappen claimed his third world title in as many years at the previous round in Qatar.

But Hamilton’s early pace at a track where he has enjoyed so much success over the years suggests he might be able to give the Dutchman a run for his money in qualifying for Sunday’s 56-lap race.

Leclerc could also be a contender in the Lone Star State after he finished just 0.156 sec behind Verstappen.

Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez took fourth spot, three tenths back, a place ahead of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen with George Russell sixth for Mercedes.

Oscar Piastri survived a hairy moment when he temporarily lost control of his McLaren through Turn 8.

The Australian rookie, who won the sprint race in Lusail a fortnight ago, looked destined for the barriers after he ran on to the grass at high speed.

Piastri wiggled one way to the next but managed to catch his out-of-control machine to avoid a big shunt. He sustained minor damage to the floor of his McLaren in the accident and finished only 19th.

Lance Stroll was rooted to the foot of the time charts after he completed just five laps following a brake failure on his Aston Martin.

Qualifying takes place at 4pm local time (10pm BST).

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz beat Max Verstappen to top spot in final practice for the Italian Grand Prix.

Sainz’s lap in the closing moments of the one-hour running in Monza drew a huge roar from the tifosi, providing the Ferrari faithful with hope a scarlet car might secure pole position at the team’s home event.

Sainz, who was also quickest in Friday’s second running, saw off Verstappen by 0.086 seconds. Lewis Hamilton finished third for Mercedes.

Charles Leclerc made a mistake on his speediest lap and had to settle for fourth, half-a-second slower than team-mate Sainz.

Verstappen is bidding to become the first driver to win 10 consecutive races, but Ferrari appear to have a car capable of denying the Dutchman pole.

For Hamilton, the seven-time world champion will be pleased to be back at the sharp end of the pack after he finished 17th in practice on Friday.

However, the British driver was still 0.541 seconds back from Sainz, with team-mate George Russell sixth. Fernando Alonso finished fifth for Aston Martin, with Sergio Perez 10th and McLaren’s Lando Norris 17th.

Qualifying for the 14th round of the season takes place at 4pm (3pm BST).

Charles Leclerc conceded Red Bull are in "another league" after Sergio Perez triumphed at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday.

Perez was the fastest in Saturday's sprint and managed to stave off the pursuit of Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen the following day in Baku, the Spaniard claiming his second win of the season.

Leclerc finished in third and the Ferrari driver acknowledged Red Bull are way ahead at present.

"Red Bull are in another league when it comes to the race," he told Sky Sports. "A very good [qualifying] lap managed to put us in front but over 51 laps it was just not possible, they have so much [more] pace than us in race pace. They found something that we didn't yet.

"The feeling is a little bit better but when I see the gap, we don't really know how much we closed the gap. The Aston Martin was also really quick so we have some work to do."

Red Bull are the seventh team in F1 history to have won the first four races of a campaign, with the victories split evenly between Perez and Verstappen.

They have now surpassed Mercedes as the team with the most wins in Baku as the individual battle between team-mates Perez and Verstappen continues to play out.

World champion Verstappen pushed throughout the race but was unable to usurp Perez, who lauded his control when leading the charge.

"It really worked out today for us," Perez said on Sky Sports. "We managed to stay in the DRS train and keep the pressure on Max. 

"I think we had better degradation on that first stint. I think it was very close between us, we pushed to the maximum today, we both clipped the wall a few times.

"The way Max pushed me today was really hard but we managed to keep in control."

Verstappen had the lead after the third lap before clipping the wall on Turn 4, which allowed Perez to overtake, before the Dutchman pitted just before a safety car was deployed.

He labelled that decision to pit as "unlucky", before adding to Sky Sports: "I think the tyres were overheating a bit because of that, trying to follow. 

"Also, the balance, I was struggling to be really consistent, I was playing around with the tools a little bit. Once I got that sorted, I'd say the last 10 laps were actually quite good again, but just a little bit too late.

"A lot of things learnt again throughout the race, at the end of the day, a good team result."

Sergio Perez followed up his sprint race victory with a superb drive to triumph in Sunday's main event at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which was marred by shambolic organisation on the final lap.

Perez was the quickest in Saturday's sprint and the Mexican held off Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc to claim his second race win of the season.

However, the FIA and race organisers will have questions to answer after crew members and photographers were allowed onto the pit lane during the final lap, despite Esteban Ocon having not pitted.

The Alpine driver came in for his pit stop, but managed to slow down enough to avoid any incident.

Fortunately, there was no taking away from Perez's triumph, his second in Baku after 2021.

Leclerc held pole but two-time reigning Formula One champion Verstappen took the lead in the third lap, with Perez overtaking the Ferrari soon after.

Verstappen clipping the wall on Turn Four allowed Perez to close ground, and there was more bad news for the Dutchman when he pitted just before a safety car, which was brought out after Nyck De Vries spun off the track.

Perez took advantage by pitting during the safety car, and was back out in first place by the time racing resumed.

An investigation for a possible unsafe release yielded no penalty for Perez, who would not relinquish his lead and eventually won by over two seconds.

Behind him, Verstappen and Fernando Alonso tussled for the fastest lap, though it was George Russell who clinched it at the death after a late pit stop.

Leclerc, meanwhile, had to settle for third on a disappointing day for Ferrari.

Red Bull on the charge

Red Bull are the seventh team in F1 history to have won the first four races of a campaign, with the victories split evenly between Perez and Verstappen.

Indeed, Red Bull have now surpassed Mercedes as the team with the most wins in Baku.

Verstappen overtakes legendary Senna

One day short of the 29th anniversary of Ayrton Senna's death, Verstappen secured his 81st podium finish.

That is one more than the great Senna managed in his career, which was tragically cut short in 1994.

Charles Leclerc will start on pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for the third season in a row after an impressive qualifying run on Friday.

Ferrari's Leclerc surprisingly outpaced the Red Bull pair of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, who will start second and third respectively in Baku.

The Monegasque driver kept up with Verstappen before putting in a time of one minute and 40.203 seconds to beat his opponent by 0.188s.

"I like city tracks in general," Leclerc told Sky Sports. "It's not only here but Singapore, Monaco, here, a track that I really enjoy. You can really play with the limits, more than on a normal track.

"The limit is a hard limit as it's the wall! You cannot overstep it, so it's about building up to be very close to the wall without ever touching it."

Friday's qualifying session determined the race order for Sunday’s Grand Prix, with another, standalone shorter qualifying session to take place on Saturday ahead of a 17-lap sprint event – the first of six this season.

However, Leclerc is in no doubt where his priorities lie, even though he admitted his Ferrari is unlikely to be able to compete across Sunday's 51 laps of the six-kilometre Baku City Circuit.

"It went well in the last three years, but we have another qualifying tomorrow, so it could be four poles in a row," Leclerc said. "But we have the race on Sunday, which is more important, but I believe we will struggle a bit more as I think Red Bull is still a step ahead."

Leclerc's team-mate Carlos Sainz will start in fourth on Sunday, with Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton in fifth and Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin sixth.

Hamilton's team-mate George Russell will start 11th after a surprise elimination in Q2 on Friday, while there were early crashes from Nyck de Vries (AlphaTauri) and Pierre Gasly (Alpine) as a hectic start to qualifying began with red flags, both hitting the barrier on turn three.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 1:40.203
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.188
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.292
4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.813
5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.974
6. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) +1.050
7. Lando Norris (McLaren) +1.078
8. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +1.378
9. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +1.408
10. Oscar Piastri (McLaren) +1.408

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc put a brake on Red Bull’s dominant streak by securing a surprise pole position for Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Formula One bosses have tinkered with the format in Baku by introducing two qualifying sessions.

Friday’s result decides the order for Sunday’s Grand Prix, while a second shorter qualifying session on Saturday determines the grid for a 17-lap dash – the first of six sprint events this season – later in the day.

The sport’s chiefs hope the revamp will enliven the weekend, and Leclerc’s qualifying triumph for Sunday’s main event marks the first non-Red Bull pole of the season.

Max Verstappen, who has won two of the opening three rounds to establish a 15-point championship lead, will line up alongside Leclerc, with Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez – the only other man to stand on the top step of the podium in 2023 – third.

Lewis Hamilton qualified fifth, a second back from Leclerc. Mercedes team-mate George Russell was eliminated in Q2 and will start 11th on Sunday.

By his own admission, Leclerc’s start to the season has been a “disaster”. He broke down in Bahrain, and then finished only seventh in Saudi Arabia following an engine penalty. Last time out in Australia he failed to complete a single lap after a collision with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll.

He then arrived on the Caspian Sea amid a report in Italy that he is already plotting his Ferrari exit with a move to Mercedes as Hamilton’s replacement.

But after claiming his third pole in a row on Baku’s streets, the 25-year-old deliberately pointed to the Prancing Horse on his Ferrari overalls.

“The whole team needed this result,” he said. “It is part of our job, for any team in Formula One, to deal with rumours and pressure.

“But it is obviously sometimes a bit more difficult to perform under those circumstances.

“I did not expect it. We came into the weekend thinking it would be a great result if we are in front of the Aston Martins and the Mercedes, and we find ourself on pole.

“We know we are behind on race pace but our job is to maximise the points for later in the season if we are then strong enough to go and get the wins.”

Over at Mercedes, Hamilton might have finished second in Melbourne, but the seven-time world champion was off the pace here.

Hamilton snuck through to Q3, finishing just 0.004 sec ahead of the knocked-out Russell, and then never threatened to challenge the Ferraris and Red Bulls.

“We are trying as hard as we can,” said the 38-year-old. “It’s just getting into a rhythm is not easy on this track.

“We can’t make changes to the car overnight. This is the pace we have. It’s not the position we want as a team. We exist to win. But everyone has that winning mindset.

“We haven’t had an upgrade this weekend but we’re working towards one which will hopefully put us a bit closer to the battle.”

Leclerc’s team-mate Carlos Sainz will start fourth, two spots ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, with Lando Norris seventh for McLaren.

Q1 was delayed by 28 minutes after Nyck de Vries and Pierre Gasly both crashed out.

De Vries went in too hot on his brakes at the third corner, missing the apex and slamming into the wall. Out came the red flag, and a 17-minute barrier repair job followed as De Vries’ written-off AlphaTauri was winched away.

The running had restarted for less than two minutes before the red flags were deployed for a second time. Turn 3 claimed another victim as Gasly thudded into the wall and came to a halt.

“I couldn’t stop the car,” said the Frenchman, who missed the majority of practice when his Alpine caught fire. The two men will start Sunday’s 51-lap Grand Prix from the back of the pack.

Charles Leclerc has brushed off reports suggesting he will replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes, reaffirming his commitment to Ferrari.

The Monegasque driver is in his fifth season with the Italian constructor and is looking for a first podium of the 2023 season after a muted start.

But amid lingering speculation over the future of seven-time world champion Hamilton at Mercedes, Leclerc has been linked with replacing the Briton.

Ahead of this weekend's Azerbaijan Grand Prix, however, Leclerc denied reports he is set to swap teams, though he did not explicitly rule out a future move.

"No, not yet," he said. "Not for the moment. For now, I am fully focused on the project I am in today, which is Ferrari and I fully trust and am confident for the future.

"Then we will see, but I am fully confident for the project of Ferrari. I'm fully committed to Ferrari and I love Ferrari.

"It has always been a dream for me to be in this team and my main priority is to win a world championship with this team. So it's not something in my mind."

Hamilton, who picked up a first podium of the year at the Australian Grand Prix, sees his contract expire with Mercedes at the end of the current season.

Speculation over Leclerc succeeding him has had no impact on his own negotiations though, with Hamilton stressing his own commitment to the Silver Arrows.

"I think maybe some of the drivers all have different relationships with different bosses and stuff," Hamilton said. "I like where I am.

"I love my team, and I'm grateful for the journey we've been on and what we're working on moving forwards."

Ralf Schumacher has told Max Verstappen to either leave Formula 1 or accept the new Sprint Race weekend format, which will debut at the upcoming Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The 'Sprint Shootout' gets introduced this weekend and will set the grid for Saturday's Sprint Race, which means the grid for Sunday's Grand Prix is now determined by Friday's qualifying. 

It leaves just one free practice session in Baku with FP2 and 3 being replaced, and is the first of six Sprint Race weekends in 2023 after only hosting three in 2021 and 2022.

This comes after Verstappen issued a 'quit threat' if F1 continues to make race weekend changes, but Schumacher believes the championship will thrive either way. 

"The past, the present and the future have shown or will show that Formula 1 is much bigger than any individual," he told Sky Sports Germany.

"Bernie Ecclestone is also gone, and without him Formula 1 wouldn't exist - and now it’s more successful than ever.

"So Verstappen should either pack his things and leave, or just accept it as it is. I understand his attitude because there are a lot of risks.

"But still, he gets paid to do it. If he wants to go, then he has to go. Formula 1 will not perish, as much I love him."

Guenther Steiner has hailed the changes saying it is what fans want, and believes F1 could eventually keep adding the format to more race weekends. 

"I don't know if we will do it every race weekend," the Haas team principal told Reuters. "Maybe do a few more or maybe do half of the calendar - the F1 promoter will know what to do.

"At the moment, there is more demand for races [than slots available] so how can you get more races in, more competition, more racing if we cannot do more than 24 events? So just make the event double count."

Will Baku finally have a repeat winner?

In six previous races at Baku, there has been a different winner each time. Nico Rosberg won its inaugural Grand Prix in 2016, before Daniel Ricciardo, Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Perez and defending winner Verstappen all stood on the top step.

With two of that six no longer in F1 and Bottas now in an Alfa Romeo, chances are only three of them are in with a shot of victory. However, given Red Bull have dominated the opening three races to this season, they will be odds-on favourite to win again on Sunday.

To many, the battle will be between Perez and Verstappen with the double world champion currently 15 points ahead of his team-mate in the standings. If Red Bull wins again, then that will extend Hamilton’s winless run to 27 - his worst in F1 - after Mercedes have struggled since the start of 2022.

However, Fernando Alonso has stood on the podium in each race this season. Therefore, should Red Bull encounter any problems then maybe the Aston Martin driver will extend Baku's record. 

Charles Leclerc faces worst ever start to F1 season

Charles Leclerc's retirement in Australia means he is the first Ferrari driver since Felipe Massa in 2009 to have two DNFs in the opening three races of a season. For the other round, Saudi Arabia, he only finished seventh which leaves Leclerc 10th in the championship on six points.

It is a stark contrast to this time 12 months ago, where the Ferrari driver was leading the championship by 34 points after winning two of the opening three races. Should he fail to score a point in Baku then that will make it Leclerc's worst start to an F1 season, despite driving for Alfa Romeo in his debut year.

Championship Standings

Drivers

Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 69Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 54Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) 45Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 38Carlos Sainz Jr (Ferrari) 20

Constructors 

Red Bull 123Aston Martin 65Mercedes 56Ferrari 26McLaren 12 

Ferrari have lost their appeal to the FIA over a time penalty handed to Carlos Sainz at the Australian Grand Prix.

Sainz was punished following a collision with Fernando Alonso during the race on April 2.

He was demoted from fourth to 12th place after making contact with Alonso's Aston Martin in a chaotic penultimate-lap standing restart.

There were another two crashes prior to a red flag being waved for a third time in Melbourne, where Red Bull's Max Verstappen triumphed.

Ferrari appealed the decision, but on Tuesday it was confirmed the Italian team had been unsuccessful.

"There is no significant and relevant new element that was unavailable to the parties seeking the review at the time of the decision concerned. The Petition is therefore dismissed," an FIA statement read after a hearing on Tuesday.

"We considered the fact that this collision took place at the first corner on the first lap of the restart, when, by convention, the stewards would typically take a more lenient view of incidents.

"However, we decided that notwithstanding that it was the equivalent of a first lap incident, we considered that there was sufficient gap for SAI to take steps to avoid the collision and failed to do so. We therefore imposed a five-second time penalty."

Ferrari said they were "naturally disappointed" with the decision, adding they felt "that we had provided sufficient significant new elements for the FIA to re-examine the decision especially in the context of the particular conditions and multiple incidents that occurred during the final restart."

Their statement concluded: "We are however respectful of the process and of the FIA decision. We are now looking forward to entering broader discussions with the FIA, Formula One, and all the teams, with the aim of further improving the policing of our sport, in order to ensure the highest level of fairness and consistency that our sport deserves.

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