Why Ferrari's Charles Leclerc can still win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

He may be starting ninth after a crash in qualifying but the Monegasque driver can still be a contender for victory in Baku

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN - APRIL 27: Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari prepares to drive in the garage during qualifying for the F1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan at Baku City Circuit on April 27, 2019 in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Saturday was a day of despair for Ferrari's Charles Leclerc as he wrecked his hopes of taking pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix with a crash in qualifying.

But even though the Monegasque driver starts Sunday's race, which begins at 4.10pm UAE time, from ninth place on the grid, he still has the chance to win his first Formula One grand prix in Baku.

Here is why.

He is the fastest package in Baku

Leclerc had dominated practice and been around 0.3 seconds quicker per lap then teammate Sebastian Vettel, with a gap of 0.5 to the Mercedes-GP cars.

Now we will never know if he would have still had that edge in the final thrilling moments of qualifying, when Vettel lost out to the Mercedes cars, but Leclerc's forlorn expression in the pit garage told you what he thought his chances had been.

But Leclerc should be extremely strong in race trim and has more then enough time in the 51 laps to make himself a factor at the front.

Yes he is down the order but he has the tools at his disposal to pass people on a track that, with a 2km-long main straight, positively encourages overtaking.

Flexible strategy

Leclerc will stand the race on the medium tyres, a grade heavier then the soft compounds that the front runners will begin the event on.

That gives him strategic flexibility. He can run a long first stint to give himself clean air mid-race when those on softer tyres have pitted.

He could also pit earlier and move to the softs if they prove durable.

He is in a position where he can do different things to the Mercedes cars of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas and that can be only a good thing on an afternoon that is so often unpredictable.

Safety car periods

There are usually at least one or two crashes in Baku. Given the lack of run-off areas around the street track that nearly always guarantees a safety car period.

These will keep Leclerc in range of the leaders as he makes his way up the order and could open the door to strategic options for him and Ferrari.

The dream, and very plausible, scenario is Leclerc on soft tyres at the end of the race while the other drivers in top cars are on medium tyres, with a safety car having bunched up the pack.

Clean start

Leclerc needs to get up to fifth, behind Vettel, the two Mercedes cars, and Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen as soon as he can as those are the front-runners and contenders for victory.

But he needs to keep his nose clean and avoid first-lap contact.

There has been crashes at the start the past two years and a number of drivers had their afternoons hampered or ruined.

A cracking getaway would be great but some circumspection would also be advised as Leclerc is quick enough to be a challenger regardless.