Charles Leclerc: I didn't expect to fight Red Bull for pole in Baku

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Charles Leclerc described his pole position at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as "a good surprise" after admitting he did not expect to be in contention for the fastest time in qualifying.

Leclerc beat championship leader Max Verstappen to the top spot in Friday qualifying by 0.188s, meaning he will start Sunday's Azerbaijan Grand Prix ahead of the two Red Bulls.

Although it is his third pole in as many years at the Baku street circuit, the result comes as a surprise after Ferrari's disappointing start to the season in which Leclerc has scored six points from three races.

"It's really good, especially considering the beginning of the season I've had," Leclerc said. "Obviously, we haven't had the greatest of beginnings, but it's great to be back on pole. Honestly, I did not expect it."

Leclerc will start Sunday's race from pole position, but under F1's new sprint weekend format he will take part in a second shortened qualifying session on Saturday which will then set the grid for a 100km sprint race the same day.

"I think we came into the weekend thinking that it would already be a great result if we were in front of the Aston Martins and the Mercedes, and we find ourselves on pole," he said. "So really really happy with that.

"We need to see obviously tomorrow for the sprint race and the race on Sunday, as I think we are a little bit more on the back foot there. But anyway, a really good surprise, and extremely happy with my lap."

Leclerc said he came close to the barriers at the first corner of his final lap but managed to hook up the rest of the lap.

"On street circuits, you always try and do one lap in Q3 pushing obviously more than any other lap before," he said. "But then for the last lap, you just put everything in and see how it goes.

"So it was a close call in Turn 1, but overall, it was quite a clean lap. And yeah, again, really happy with the lap."

After retiring from the last round in Australia following a first corner collision with Lance Stroll, Leclerc remained cautious over whether he will be able to defend first place from the Red Bulls over a race distance.

"I hope so, but I don't have the answer yet," he said. "But one thing for sure is that I think we did a step forward in Australia.

"On my side, obviously couldn't show it. But on Carlos [Sainz]'s side, I think the feeling was much better during the race."Then how much better it is, we still need to see on Sunday. So I think on that, we still have some question marks.

"I am absolutely sure that we did some steps in the right direction. Not sure if it's enough [to win], though."