After tasting success in the China Grand Prix, Daniel Ricciardo is hoping for another good weekend in his Red Bull. He certainly got his weekend off to a good start with a second and first in the two practice sessions.
Valtteri Bottas finished fastest in the first practice session but it was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who grabbed the headlines. He’s had an uninspiring start to the 2018 season and it didn’t get any better in Azerbaijan.
Verstappen is yet to have a race this season that hasn’t included some kind of incident and his woes continued in practice as he lost control at Turn Three and smashed his Red Bull into the barriers. Not quite what he had in mind after telling reporters he wanted to drive “faster but maybe a little more in control”. He ended the session sixth fastest
Second behind Bottas was the other Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo who was 0.035 seconds behind the Finnish driver. The Force India of Sergio Perez was in third, ahead of Lewis Hamilton in fourth with Estaban Ocon in fifth in the other Force India. Mercedes might not be too happy with their result considering unlike Red Bull and Force India, they were both on the fastest ultra-soft tyre.
It wasn’t a great session for either of the Ferrari drivers with championship leader Sebastian Vettel 10th on ultra-soft tyres and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen 13th. It’s already been a busy week for McLaren with the departure of their chief technical officer Tim Goss and Fernando Alonso finished seventh quickest but 2.2 seconds off the pace. Again, questions will be asked about their performance with the Renault engine seeing Alonso was 26km/h slower on the straight than Daniel Ricciardo who’s also using a Renault engine.
There was a good performance by the Williams team who are yet to earn a point this season. Sergev Sirotkin was eighth quickest with Lance Stroll in 11th, so it’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the weekend goes for them.
A good day for Daniel Ricciardo continued when he finished fastest in the second practice session. It was close though as the winner of the China Grand Prix was just 0.069 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.
Max Verstappen finished third followed by the Mercedes of Bottas and Hamilton with Bottas 0.775 seconds behind Ricciardo. Both Mercedes seemed to be struggling and not getting on well with the low-grip and low-abrasion surface which doesn’t bode well for Sunday’s race. They weren’t the only ones struggling with Vettel down in 11th and 1.3 seconds adrift of Ricciardo.
Speaking after the practice session, Vettel said he struggled to find rhythm and wasn’t up to speed. However, he added that “I was pretty happy with the long run at the end.”
When It came to the race-simulation runs it was good news for Red Bull. Verstappen seemed to be quickest ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
Fernando Alonso finished sixth quickest and it was a better performance than in the first practice session with just a gap of 0.9 seconds between Alonso and Ricciardo. On the straights, the Spanish driver was only 10 km/hr slower than the Australian and faster than Verstappen.
Estaban Ocon was seventh fastest, just ahead of Carlos Sainz in his Renault. The early promise shown by Williams didn’t continue with Stroll 14th and Sirotkin 17th.
Red Bull may have impressed today but will be up against it in qualifying as Mercedes and Ferrari employ the extra power-boost modes that they lack. It does look like being a three-team race on Sunday though. I’ll be back tomorrow with a report on final practice and qualifying, until then enjoy your racing.
By Steve Ashfield for Pillow Motor Sports