Azerbaijan GP | Bottas sets the FP3 pace, Vettel and Verstappen hampered

Final practice at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix topped by Valtteri Bottas.

Valtteri Bottas tops a fraught final practice session for Jolyon Palmer, Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel as the British racer retired early with his Renault on fire. While Vettel often sat in the Ferrari pit and Friday pace-setting Max Verstappen parked up late on with engine issues.

Friday in Azerbaijan was a clean sweep for Max Verstappen, as the Dutchman put his Red Bull atop the leaderboard in both Friday practice sessions. Covering off the pace by Ferrari and Mercedes, to edge Bottas, Raikkonen and his team-mate, Ricciardo, by a tenth of a second.

Despite setting the pace, though, Friday was not a clean day for the Red Bull driver having crashed out of FP2 late on. Carrying too much speed into the opening corner, before bailing out too late and collecting the tech-pro barrier surrounding the wall.

Verstappen’s crash left his Red Bull mechanics with a lot of work to do ahead of Saturday’s running – needing to repair the entire rear of the car as the suspension snapped and the rear buckled.

Also with work to do following Friday practice was Jolyon Palmer’s mechanics after the Renault driver was one of the many to have issues at the challenging Turn 8. But unlike the many who veered straight on under breaking, the Renault driver was amongst the few to collect the barrier – breaking his front-right suspension.

The spot at which Palmer ground to a halt had previously claimed Sergio Perez in the morning session. With the Mexican driver vocally unhappy with the kerb designed to tighten the corner, leading to the FIA changing the severity of the kerb while re-aligning the track edge.

Baku town wall - FP2 - Renault

Peering through the old Baku town wall during FP2 for the Azerbaijan GP. Photo credit: Renault Sport F1.

After his FP2 crash, Jolyon Palmer was amongst the early runners in final practice. Hitting the track from the off with medium Pirelli’s fitted, but only for the opening seven minutes as his session came to an abrupt end as his Renault caught alight heading into Turn 2. Leaving the Briton out of the session as marshals rushed to extinguish the flames flowing from the air intake and exhaust.

Also hitting the track early on was fellow Turn 8 victim Sergio Perez. Yet while the Mexican settled into his session, posting a slow 1:55.923, his team-mate was befalling issues as his steering wheel display could not display his tyre temperatures.

Issues also befell Sebastian Vettel in the early stages. As the championship leader was stuck sat in the Scuderia garage whilst the Rosso Corsa blazoned engineers searched with an ultraviolet light for any cracks in the engine bay.

Vettel’s team-mate, meanwhile, was out on track. With Kimi Raikkonen wracking up the laps on the supersoft tyres, but without posting a flying lap to dethrone Valtteri Bottas despite the Silver Arrow lapping on the soft compound rubber.

Valtteri’s advantage atop the leaderboard sat at four-tenths of a second at the halfway stage. Leading the way with his team-mate immersed in the mid-field as he again struggles on a street circuit – following poor results in Sochi and Monaco, and only finishing FP3 yesterday in 10th place.

Lewis Hamilton three-wheeling across the brow at Turn 9 during Friday practice for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Photo credit: Mercedes AMG F1 Team.

Hamilton’s struggles also saw the three-time F1 champion suffer a large kick of oversteer as he manoeuvred out of Turn 7. Matching the issues befalling Vandoorne in a torrid weekend for the Honda-powered team, with both Stoffel and Alonso handed heavy grid penalties for mass power unit element changes.

After early issues for Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari was able to send the German back out on track shortly after their ultraviolet investigation. But after sending their driver out once again and seeing Vettel move up to fifth with a 1:44.344, the team soon called Vettel back in as a hydraulics issue left their driver touring.

By now, supersoft tyres were being fitted onto Hamilton’s Mercedes as the soft tyres reached the limitations of their use. Promoting sixth-placed Hamilton into the lead after improving by nearly a second.

Previous pace-setter, Valtteri Bottas, too improved on a fresh set of supersoft tyres. But the previous pace-setter could only improve to reduce the margin as he remained second. But further gains were there to be found as he put a tenth over Hamilton.

Bottas’ gains, however, were not enough to prevent Raikkonen from surging to the top. Moving into the 1:42s for the first time, as the lead Ferrari laid down the pace and set the marker for Bottas to beat – moving back into P1 by less than a tenth.

As for the Friday pace-setter, when Verstappen emerged on a fresh set of supersoft tyres the Red Bull driver noted a “really weird sound” coming from his engine when he approached the rev limiter. But after consultation with his engineer, the Dutchman felt comfortable once more in a different engine mode.

Verstappen - Azerbaijan Friday practice pace setter

Max Verstappen, the Friday pace setter at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Although feeling comfortable at first, Verstappen’s woes continued soon after as the issue lingered and forced the Dutchman to park at Turn 16. Leaving the Red Bull driver to switch everything off and hop free from his car for the second successive session.

With Verstappen’s Red Bull sat aside the track, yellow flags fell to impede the sessions of the drivers still on track. But not as much as Hamilton could have caused as he saved a flick at the modified Turn 8 to keep his Silver Arrow out of the wall. Or Felipe Massa, as he too saved a moment through the now faster yet still challenging corner.

Late moments fell elsewhere, too, as Romain Grosjean spun at Turn 2 and glanced the barrier with the rear of his car. Then once again ran deep at Turn 7 as his Haas appeared to have developed a braking error – leading to Romain hitting the radio with more complaints.

Pos Driver Chassis Laps Time Gap
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 21 1’42.742
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 14 1’42.837 0.095
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 23 1’43.158 0.416
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 24 1’43.287 0.545
5 Esteban Ocon Force India 21 1’43.344 0.602
6 Max Verstappen Red Bull 16 1’43.614 0.872
7 Felipe Massa Williams 18 1’43.738 0.996
8 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 21 1’43.908 1.166
9 Lance Stroll Williams 17 1’44.040 1.298
10 Sergio Perez Force India 22 1’44.138 1.396
11 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 16 1’44.312 1.57
12 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 7 1’44.344 1.602
13 Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso 23 1’44.401 1.659
14 Fernando Alonso McLaren 18 1’44.741 1.999
15 Kevin Magnussen Haas 20 1’44.926 2.184
16 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 17 1’45.143 2.401
17 Romain Grosjean Haas 20 1’45.491 2.749
18 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 21 1’45.645 2.903
19 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber 19 1’45.722 2.98
20 Jolyon Palmer Renault 4 1’53.040 10.298