Max Verstappen edged out Charles Leclerc to finish fastest in the sole practice session at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Formula One bosses have changed the weekend format in Baku, with the introduction of two qualifying sessions – one to decide the order for Sunday’s grand prix, and the other determining the starting grid for Saturday’s sprint race, the first of six sprint events this season.
Practice has been slashed from three hours to just one, ahead of qualifying for Sunday’s main event at 5pm local time (2pm UK) on Friday.
🏁 FREE PRACTICE 1 🏁
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 28, 2023
The reduction in practice is designed to create greater jeopardy with the teams unable to gather as much data as they would like.
And the one-hour running on Friday was suspended for 13 minutes after Pierre Gasly’s Alpine caught fire with the Frenchman leaping out of his smoky machine at Turn 12.
In an incident-packed session, Yuki Tsunoda limped back to the pits on three wheels after he banged the wall, while Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz also brushed the armco at the tight and twisty street circuit on the Caspian Sea.
Double world champion Verstappen has won two of the opening three rounds to establish a 15-point lead over Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez.
On Friday, the Dutch driver pipped Leclerc to top spot by just 0.037 seconds. Perez finished third, a tenth down on his Red Bull team-mate, while Sainz recovered from his brush with the barrier to take fourth.
Lando Norris provided some encouragement for McLaren to finish fifth, eight tenths down on Verstappen.
But Lewis Hamilton could manage only 11th for Mercedes, 1.5 sec back off the pace with team-mate George Russell also struggling, taking the chequered flag 17th of the 20 runners.
Elsewhere, Nyck de Vries finished sixth in his AlphaTauri ahead of the Aston Martin duo of Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso.