Max Verstappen tops the first free practice session at the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Back in Baku, and back on top came Red Bull as Max Verstappen topped the times from team-mate Ricciardo to better the efforts of soft tyre running Sebastian Vettel.
As the 90-minute session came to an end, Max Verstappen was the fastest driver in the field of 20 to lap the Baku City Circuit. Completing one loop of the second-longest track on the F1 calendar in 1:44.410, four-tenths faster than second placed Ricciardo.
Verstappen’s fastest time of the day came an hour through the session, moving ahead of then fastest Hamilton to take the top spot. At the time, the margin Max held over the Briton saw the Red Bull move just 0.088 seconds clear for the lead before stretching his margin with a following flyer.
The start of the first practice session was a muted affair, with little on track action as drivers trickled out of their garages for install runs. Some of which, such as Red Bull, though were heavily carrying kiel probe arrays to gather airflow data in the early stages.
With drivers out only for install runs, the early stages saw the dusty street surface remain slippery at first. With the low grip on offer resulting in drivers forced to take to one of the few runoff areas – such as Romain Grosjean after locking up at Turn 7.
Having utilised the marginal run off on offer at Turn 7, Grosjean continued on his way and swiftly set the opening timed lap of the day. Posting a 1:52.952, before following up with a marginally faster run.
As times continued to hit the board, the benchmark set by Grosjean was lowered by Massa and Perez. With Felipe moving top on a 1:47.797, before taking his PB into the 1:46s and creating a one-second gap to second placed Sebastian Vettel. Before Perez rose above with a 1m46.295s.
While the benchmark was lowered and more laps were added to the board, drivers continued to find the grip limitations troubling. Seeing Raikkonen and Palmer both run straight on, while Bottas spun at the brow of the hill running aside the old town wall.
Bottas’s Mercedes team-mate, meanwhile, was promoting the Silver Arrows to the top of the field as Hamilton blitzed the Force India’s pace to create an eight-tenths lead. Lewis’ pace came despite early concerns that he could not utilise the overtake button that harnesses greater power from the Mercedes-AMG F1 M08 EQ Power+ unit.
Lewis’ lap also came on the soft compound tyres, the mid-range option for the weekend as Pirelli bring the supersoft and mediums to Baku. Both alternatives utlised by Verstappen in FP1, as he ran high in the early order on mediums before nudging ahead of Hamilton when the supersofts were later fitted.
Verstappen’s lead at the top initially sat at just 0.088 seconds, but after pushing on again was able to stretch his lead to a more representative seven-tenths and later a full second – highlighting the performance gains the slicker compound offers.
Elsewhere, Ferrari opted to remain on the yellow-walled soft compound tyres while Red Bull and Mercedes began to venture out on the supersoft rubber. And like the colour walling Vettel’s tyres, the marshal flags aside the track matched Vettel’s wheels as he ran deep at Turn 3 to neutralise the corner momentarily.
With a wider amount of run off on offer at Turn 3, Vettel was able to continue on his way shortly after. The session, however, was then halted with a red flag as the early pace-setter Sergio Perez clouted the inside kerb at Turn 8 before hitting the adjacent barrier.
The contact between Perez’s Force India and the barrier resulted in the front and rear tyres being ripped from the car. With his rear-right tyre even breaking free from the tether that is supposed to retain the wheel in such circumstances.
Prior to the red flag, Daniel Ricciardo notched his name into second-place – albeit half a second down on his team-mate. Yet, the Red Bull’s time was enough to push Vettel down the order while Mercedes sat 5th and 6th with only Bottas posting his fastest lap on the supersoft rubber.
Once the debris was cleared and the car was eventually carried through the old town wall, the session restarted with five minutes left on the clock. Leading to a fast flurry of cars dashing back out of the pits and onto the Baku streets for their final laps of the session.
The short time remaining, however, was still enough to see Romain Grosjean once again lock up and veer on into the run-off area. His last lock-up of the session coming at Turn 3 as he rapidly closed on Hamilton under braking with the Mercedes slowly negotiating the corner.
|1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||19||1’44.410|
|2||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||22||1’44.880||0.47|
|4||Sergio Perez||Force India||16||1’45.398||0.988|
|7||Esteban Ocon||Force India||24||1’45.752||1.342|
|10||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||11||1’46.617||2.207|
|16||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Toro Rosso||13||1’47.501||3.091|