Baku GP FP1: Max Verstappen quickest in a fiery practice session
Max Verstappen set the pace in the one and only practice session for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as Pierre Gasly’s session went up in flames while Kevin Magnussen stopped on the side of the track.
Ahead of F1’s first sprint race weekend of the season, the sports’ higher-ups opted to change the format leaving the teams and drivers with just one practice hour – FP1 – for the entire weekend.
And it proved to be a dramatic one with all the drivers losing vital track time due to a red flag for Pierre Gasly’s burning Alpine.
After an extended break, Formula 1 returned to the track for the opening – and only – practice hour at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix with championship leaders Red Bull as well as Mercedes, promising a “start of a new path”, running a raft of upgrades, as too did Alpine, McLaren and Alfa Romeo. Ferrari opted not to, only bringing a new low downforce rear wing to the Baku circuit.
Valtteri Bottas on the soft tyre hit the front with a 1:42, perhaps a sign that Alfa Romeo don’t believe they’ll make Q3 later in the weekend. There were also concerns at Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton reporting his brake pedal felt long while Carlos Sainz took a layer of paint off the Turn 5 wall.
The yellow flags were out for the third time in the opening 10 minutes when Yuki Tsunoda had a tyre failure, rear-right, the rubber completely stripped after a spin. He made his way back to the garage with smoke coming off his AT04 as the bodywork scrapped along the ground.
Back at the front Max Verstappen went quickest with a 1:43.834 while Pierre Gasly was told to “avoid shifting” as his Alpine was on fire. Fernando Alonso was warned that Gasly “in front of you might be on fire” and yes he was. He stopped at the castle section with his A523 on fire, the session red flagged.
There were problems also for Kevin Magnussen as he went the wrong way up an escape road before coming to a halt, his session also over. And still Gasly’s Alpine continued to burn with thick black smoke pouring out of the airbox. Alpine reported a hydraulic leak as the potential cause of the fire.
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While the session was red flagged AlphaTauri attacked Tsunoda’s car with tape, the team opting to stick what could be stuck back in place rather than change parts such as the floor given the lack of practice time.
13 minutes after the red flag the session was back underway with Logan Sargeant and Hamilton, the latter yet to set a time, quickly out onto the track. Hamilton went P14 on his first flying lap, a tow from his team-mate but one that was perhaps a bit too soon.
Alpine’s session went from bad to worse with Esteban Ocon standing next to his car rather than driving, the Frenchman reportedly out of the session as the team feared a similar hydraulic issue to what had befallen Gasly.
With 20 minutes to go Red Bull ran 1-2 with Verstappen 0.282s ahead of Sergio Perez only for Alonso to go purple in the opening sector before backing off due to traffic. His team-mate Lance Stroll also found that difficult with a few swear words and a “stay in your lane” involved in that.
Charles Leclerc also had problems with a “what is Lando doing” in the mix followed by a trip up an escape road. A short while later he told the team: “Let‘s focus on the important information on track. The gap I need to know where I am, otherwise it‘s dangerous.”
While Stroll moved up to second place, splitting the Red Bulls, Alonso was told to box with a car issue with his AMR23 pushed back into the garage. It was a DRS issue for the Spaniard.
Heading out for a run on the soft tyres Perez clocked a 1:42.651 to go 0.3s ahead of Verstappen with Alex Albon in the Williams up to third and Hamilton, running the medium tyres, P4. Leclerc went up an escape road for the third time. Verstappen closed the gap to the 2022 Baku winner to a 0.19s.
Leclerc, mistake free, moved up to second and then first with a 1:42.352 only to be pipped by Verstappen at the chequered flag. The reigning World Champ put in a 1:42.315 to beat Leclerc by 0.03s with Perez third ahead of Sainz. Lando Norris and Nyck de Vries were fifth and sixth for the session with the top six all on the soft tyres.
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing 1:42.315 [soft]
2 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.037 [soft]
3 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.139 [soft]
4 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.584 [soft]
5 Lando NORRIS McLaren +0.810 [soft]
6 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +1.099 [soft]
7 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +1.140 [hard]
8 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +1.245 [medium]
9 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.313 [soft]
10 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +1.433 [soft]
11 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +1.483 [medium]
12 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +1.665 [soft]
13 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +1.695 [soft]
14 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +1.822 [soft]
15 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +2.008 [soft]
16 Logan SARGEANT Williams +2.585 [soft]
17 George RUSSELL Mercedes +2.767 [medium]
18 Esteban OCON Alpine +3.640 [medium]
19 Pierre GASLY Alpine +4.006 [medium]
20 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +5.183 [hard]
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