Lewis Hamilton was two tenths of a second behind Vettel in qualifying to book a spot alongside the F1 World Drivers’ Championship leader for the first time this season.
But Kimi Raikkonen could have beaten them both to pole position had he not lost control of the rear coming out of the last corner of a hot lap.
Instead, the Finn only qualified sixth fastest with both Mercedes and Red Bulls ahead of him.
But who will end up at the front come the chequered flag?
Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2018
Charles Leclerc overtakes Fernando Alonso, a very decent move, and the Monegasque is doing an outstanding job.
Red Bull meanwhile are putting their pit wall through the ringer. Ricciardo goes around the outside of Turn One but Verstappen won’t give it up and gets spectacularly close in Turn Two, getting fourth place back!
Hamilton is making very little impact on the fresh tyres. Warm-up not great in that Mercedes of course, not helped by a very smooth track surface and relavitely low air temperatures.
Sergio Perez is up to seventh but has as five-second time penalty for overtaking before the safety car line.
BIG Lock-up for Hamilton going into Turn One, just after setting the fastest lap. “These tyres are done,” he tells the pits and they respond by preparing a new set of boots.
Bottas takes over second place and Hamilton rejoins in third.
Sainz up into 11th after getting past Fernando Alonso.
Raikkonen gets Leclerc too – although the Monegasque has been putting in good times. Ferrari’s unofficial No 2 driver up to sixth now.
Carlos Sainz is going backwards now as well because his tyres have gone off completely. He’s into the pits.
Meanwhile, Raikkonen is working his way back up the field after an early stop and mugs Stroll to take seventh.
Ricciardo still can’t get past Verstappen despite his best efforts. The pair actually touch on the way out of Turn One but nothing fatal… yet.
Behind them, Charles Leclerc in the Sauber dives down the inside to get into seventh place.
Ricciardo is trying to get past Verstappen and is quicker. Will they swap the cars to stop Danny Ricc getting caught by the Williams?
Meanwhile, Renault’s brilliant start has been RUINED by Nico Hulkenberg, who clunks a rear wheel into the wall and is out. Oh dear.
Alonso is still going by the way, running in 16th and not slow but not fast either. The Renault-Red Bull battle is brilliant. Fourth through seventh are all Renault-power cars and the two yellow cars have just secured overtakes to move into fourth and sixth!
Verstappen is complaining about the lack of battery charge – Red Bull are just telling him to use the overtake button less.
Maybe he is because Hulkenberg is up to fifth. Great overtake into Turn One.
Sainz gets past Verstappen on the straight but then he hits back and regains the place at Turn One. Thrilling racing.
Fantastic restart from Vettel, who plays cat and mouse right up to the safety car line… before pulling away! The front three stays the same but Max Verstappen gets past team-mate Ricciardo at Turn Three which was a great move, but Carlos Sainz follows him through so last week’s winner is down to sixth.
Vettel is trying to help the marshalls out by pointing out the debris of which there is LOADS. Lots of Force India all over the shop. Safety car in at the end of this lap. Expect Hamilton to be VERY problematic for the German off the restart.
It was a double puncture for Alonso by the way, same as Kevin Magnussen who has pitted too.
Otmar Szafnauer tells Sky Sports that Force India are already protesting the incident with race control. Ocon looks like he was punted out a bit but he didn’t give Raikkonen any space in Turn 3.
Sirotkin by the way bumped into the back of Sergio Perez but survived – only for Alonso and Hulkenberg to squeeze him on the straight and he had nowhere to go.
Alonso has too much damage to continue, they think, but Alonso is fuming in the cockpit and seems to want to carry on.
Vettel gets away clean and Hamilton starts well too but the German holds the lead and we have already lost two drivers. SAFETY CAR is out, predictably, and Esteban Ocon has been shunted into the wall by Kimi Raikkonen.
Sergey Sirotkin is out too and Fernando Alonso has a puncture and will limp back to the pits.
The safety car has suited Raikkonen, who has got rid of those ultra-softs and is onto the softs.
1.10pm: Formation lap underway. Important information for every driver this lap.
1pm: Haas have a lot of work to do today after Romain Grosjean broke his gearbox during qualifying and failed to set a time. He obviously incurs a penalty for doing so, demoting him from last… to last.
Guenther Steiner seems optimsitic that he can do something with Kevin Magnussen in 15th – and even with Grosjean.
Remember it’s a 10 past start so you’ve got time for a quick pee or something.
12.55pm: STRATEGY UPDATE
Looks like a one-stopper here – assuming there are no safety cars, which is not a safe assumption, to be fair. The quickest way to do it is to start on the super-soft, as the front five will, and then switch to the soft around Lap 20.
But Raikkonen flat-spotted his supers in Q2 and had to set his time on ultra-softs instead so will hope for an extra bit of pace in the early laps. Vettel is on the perfect strategy from pole though.
Ominous stuff for Mercedes fans from Niki Lauda
“We made some strategic mistakes in the first two races.
“Last time Ferrari were better.
“This time they look better…”
12.45pm: Baku is rarely not an exciting race. A street circuit, low grip – it hasn’t been around very long and we already know the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as a thriller!
But today the wind is gusting around at up to 50 miles an hour and even on the trip from the pits to the grid, Kimi Raikkonen and Charles Leclerc have both almost had incidents. This could be very tricky indeed.