Sebastian Vettel leads the drivers’ championship by 12 points as the Grand Prix circus heads to Azerbaijan (always a useful answer in ‘Pointless’). Friday’s two practice sessions provided a few shocks and another poor day for Lewis Hamilton.
Max Verstappen was fastest in first practice and with Daniel Ricciardo in second, it was a rare Red Bull 1-2. It’s not a case of getting their hopes up though as the leading Ferrari and Mercedes didn’t set times on their quickest tyres.
It was a mixed session for Sergio Perez in his Force India. He finished fourth fastest but also crashed when misjudging the tight section in the old town of Baku. Thankfully he escaped unscathed after his car bounced over the entry kerb and then smashed into the wall. It didn’t do his car much good though with both right-hand wheels torn off leaving enough debris on the track to stop the session for ten minutes.
Sebastian Vettel finished third fastest 0.867 seconds behind Verstappen but that time was set on soft tyres. The same applied to Hamilton in fifth who was half a second behind Vettel. His team-mate Valtteri Bottas was sixth but did set his best time on super-softs.
Verstappen’s great day continued in the second practice session when he was again fastest. It wasn’t to be the perfect day though as he crashed into the barriers during the session.
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas was second, 0.1 seconds behind the flying Dutchman with Daniel Ricciardo a further 0.11 seconds adrift The Ferrari’s of Raikkonen and Vettel were fourth and fifth. Vettel was impressive in his race-simulation runs. It wasn’t a good session for Lewis Hamilton who was down in tenth place over a second behind Verstappen. He failed to get a quick time on the super-soft tyre just as he did in the first session so there are still some secrets to be revealed by the Mercedes.
Again, the session wasn’t accident free with several drivers having problems braking and paying a visit to the escape roads. This time it was Jolyon Palmer who caused a fifteen-minute stoppage after crashing at Turn Eight. Not exactly what Palmer needs to be doing at present. Renault have already said he’s likely to be replaced at the end of next month if he doesn’t improve his performances.
It’s another difficult week for McLaren but they knew that before getting on the plane. Both Alonso and Vandoorne will have penalties this weekend courtesy of using too many engine parts after fitting an upgraded MGU-H/turbo for their trip to Azerbaijan as well as a few development parts being tried out. It deteriorated as Alsonso’s car broke down with smoke blazing out the back. Alonso thought it was another engine problem but it was confirmed later as a gearbox problem.
A good day for Red Bull but it’s not what you do on Friday’s that wins you races. They haven’t been too close to the Ferrari’s and Mercedes this season though the gap has narrowed in recent races. Baku was expected to highlight the lack of power in the Renault engine so it’ll be interesting to see how qualifying goes tomorrow.