As predicted, the opening day of practice for the inaugural Azerbaijan Grand Prix was frantic and busy – and punctuated by numerous off-track excursions, yellow flags, and a couple of red-flagstoppages.
Renault Sport Formula One Team drivers Nico Hülkenberg and Jolyon Palmer ended the first day of practice for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix just 0.058secs apart with Nico posting the fifteenth and Jolyon the sixteenth fastest times on the Baku City Circuit.
Nico Hülkenberg: A pretty standard Friday for me except for not getting a fast run on the softest tyres during FP2. It was pretty slippery in FP1, but the track had improved for the evening session. We made some decent progress through the day and I would have been quicker if I’d had a shot at a fast lap on the Supersoft tyres. As always, there are improvements we can make for tomorrow, so that’s where our focus lies.
Jolyon Palmer: It was pretty slippery out there and we struggled to get grip from the tyres. The car was feeling better in FP2 but I was caught out at turn eight which ended my day early. We had made progress between FP1 and FP2 and there’s more we can make for tomorrow. Thankfully there’s not too much damage to the car, so we’ll look to get it where we want it to be for qualifying.
Fernando Alonso: We tested a few things in FP1 and FP2, running with different levels of downforce, trying to get some useful information for tomorrow. Stoffel worked on tyres, running on high fuel, both of which will help us make some useful decisions about strategy. The track was tricky today – the Prime and Back-Up tyres lose some heat on the long straights, so when you get onto the brakes they suddenly lock up and you go straight on. We saw many cars going off today, mainly because everyone tries to find their limit on Friday. I think we’ll see fewer offs tomorrow, and even fewer on Sunday. I lost the last half hour of the second session, so I suppose tomorrow we’ll need to do some running on high fuel, to catch up with the programme. We’ll have to start at the back of the grid anyway, so we’ll take things smoothly in qualifying.
Stofel Vandoorne: Today, we chose to concentrate on our long-run pace because we knew we’d be taking grid penalties for the race. Still, I quickly got to grips with the track in FP1, and I think there’s a bit more to come tomorrow. The car feels pretty positive around here, which is good because you need confidence on a street circuit. I also think the preparatory work I did in the sim has paid off pretty well – I felt immediately comfortable with where I had to brake, so it seems like the work was really worth it. The tyres are quite tricky again here; it looks like everyone is struggling to warm them up, with lots of people having lock-ups. It’s tricky – especially in the braking zones, because the tyres cool down on the long straights and then you have to brake very hard into the corners. The car’s really on a knife-edge in terms of extracting a good lap-time.
An overall challenging Friday for the Sauber F1 Team ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Although the day went according to the planned programme, Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein were struggling with the grip in both practice sessions on the Baku City Circuit. Overall, the Swede and the German completed 46 and 44 laps respectively.
Marcus Ericsson: It has not been a good day for us here in Baku – it was difficult to begin FP1 on medium tyres, so I did not get off to the best start. I found it interesting to try out different mechanical updates throughout the practice sessions. Analysing the data will allow us to decide how to move forward for the rest of the weekend. I am looking forward to FP3 and qualifying tomorrow.
Pascal Wehrlein: It was a rather challenging Friday for us. It was positive that we were able to try out various car setups, and that we could work through our programme for the day. We knew that the track layout would be a challenge to our pace, however did not anticipate the full extent to which it would impact our performance. We are now working towards making improvements for the rest of the weekend.
Sahara Force India had a busy day of practice on the Baku City Circuit, ending the day with both cars inside the top 10.
Sergio Perez: First and foremost, I want to thank my mechanics and the whole team for fixing the car so quickly. They are some of the best guys in the pit lane and they showed exactly why. This morning was all about trying to find the limits, and I think we did – it was good it happened today rather than tomorrow. It was a bit of a messy day, not just with what happened in FP1 but also because of all the yellow and red flags breaking the flow of the sessions. I still think we are in a good position. Tonight we will need to work out the best set-up: I feel we have a good potential for the weekend, we just have to put it all together when it matters.”
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(c) photo credit bobby arifin/Jawa pos
Esteban Ocon: I’m pretty happy about today. We had good pace in the car and I felt quite comfortable right from the start. I feel we couldn’t really show our speed because of all the yellow flags and the traffic I found on my quick laps, but it doesn’t matter. The important days for this weekend are yet to come. It was my first time around this circuit, so the priority was to keep out of trouble: this is not an easy track to learn but I enjoy the challenge. It’s a narrow circuit and it’s very easy to brake a bit too late, which is why there were so many yellow flags.
Baku – A different track and a different challenge await the Scuderia Ferrari drivers in Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
That’s how Kimi Raikkonen describes the newest circuit in the F1 calendar: The Baku track is a unique place. It’s a street circuit, but nothing like Monaco and more similar to Singapore, with long straights and very narrow sections. Last year it was the first time we were racing here and it was difficult. It was very hot and quite tricky on the tire side, not very easy to manage. This year being the second time here, it should be easier for everybody, even though the cars are different and we have slightly different tires. Today it’s a bit cooler, but it is supposed to heat up over the weekend; let’s see how the weather will turn out. Last year there were many teams that proved to be fast and you would not expect that; maybe it will be the same thing this year, maybe not. As for us, we have been quite good everywhere this season; obviously there are stronger and weaker places, but our base level is quite strong and we expect to be in the fight. Then it’s a question of putting all the things together and try to be the fastest team.
Sebastian Vettel is also looking forward to the weekend: In Canada we didn’t have an ideal race. But I think we had a good recovery from there. Now, we’ll see what happens during this weekend. This is a different track with a specific layout. Last year we did a god job here in Baku. We finished second, struggled a little bit on Friday, but managed to recover well on Saturday. Now we are working real well in the team and I think things are coming together.
Red Bull Racing
Max Verstappen: The whole day has been really positive, except the last lap, everything has been working well. From lap one I felt comfortable in the car, it was handling really well and I was confident with the setup. I think the preparation we did at the factory and in the simulator has allowed us to come here with a strong setup and competitive car from the go. This has definitely been the most positive Friday of the year so far. It feels like the cars are quicker through the corners this year, this means if you have a lock up it can be more critical. We are confident heading into Qualifying but also wary that Mercedes will turn their engines up a bit. We are on top at the end of Friday which means they have to catch up so it will be exciting in the session tomorrow.
Daniel Ricciardo: It's been a good day for myself and Max and great that we were in the top three in both sessions. Even though I was second fastest this morning I wasn't fully content with my session and I knew there was still room to improve in myself and the car. I believe we made those improvements this afternoon and I'm generally a lot happier with where we ended the day. This afternoon was a lot more entertaining, the grip was coming and you could really start to push the car. There's not much room for error and it's a pretty high risk circuit in terms of mistakes but that makes it really challenging and rewarding. When you are able to put in a good lap you cross the finish line and smile. Like always, we should not celebrate on a Friday but we are in the ball park, so hopefully tomorrow we can stay at the front.
Lance Stroll's sixth place in Azerbaijan Grand Prix practice shows his Canadian GP result has transformed his confidence, reckons his Williams Formula 1 team-mate Felipe Massa.
Lance Stroll: What was really positive was we didn't have any issues or nothing that got in the way of our running programme. On this kind of track, you gain confidence every lap.It was about doing laps and doing everything we needed to get done in our programme done.Today we did exactly that, we didn't lose any laps with problems, we just managed to get everything done. In Canada I felt the track was tricky for many reasons. Here it's a long out-lap, so you have time to warm the tyres properly. Also I just like the rhythm of the track. It was not that I disliked Canada, it was just tricky - you have to attack the first kerb, flick the car across, there are a lot of chicanes and it's about knowing where to position the car. It took me until the race to really figure it out fully, to be honest. And we didn't get a clean qualifying done in Canada which is a big reason for where we were on Saturday. Here I just had a clean day.
Felipe Massa: My position at the end was not the one it was supposed to be. I had a lot of traffic on the new tyres, and I couldn't really put a lap together because of the traffic and then yellow flags. But I was quite happy on the long run, consistent, so at the end we are in the fight. This year I believe we are in the right range, so it should be better.
Valtteri ended Friday in Baku second quickest, just 0.100s shy of Max Verstappen's pace-setting Red Bull, but there is still more work to do for the Silver Arrows ahead of Qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Valtteri Bottas: Practice one was quite tricky: we were struggling with the setup of the car and it wasn't so well balanced. Today, we needed multiple laps in a row to generate the temperatures we want for a good balance. FP1 wasn't a happy session, but we made some changes ahead of FP2 and the car definitely felt more comfortable. We are moving in the right direction and hopefully we'll make another step this evening. We'll work hard and if we can find those gains we'll be right up there fighting for pole position.
After lapping fifth in the morning, Lewis could only manage P10 in the afternoon, on a scrappy day when finding a rhythm was tough as yellow flag followed yellow flag.
Lewis Hamiton: It was a difficult day out there. This circuit is a tough one and we had a few challenges that we tried to work through today. We've clearly still got lots of work to do ahead of qualifying, but Valtteri's time in FP2 looked promising, so there is obviously pace in the car, which is encouraging. Now it's just a case of getting our heads together tonight to work out exactly how to extract that pace across the entire weekend.
Carlos Sainz: Not the easiest of days. In this morning’s FP1 we had a few issues with the balance of the car and we weren’t able to get it right straight away. This meant that we had to do some changes before FP2 and in this afternoon’s session I felt a lot more comfortable with the car. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get to exploit this improvement because of all the traffic or yellow flags… I think I did about 15 laps on the supersoft but didn’t manage to push during any of them! At least everyone else has been in this same situation, so it’s very difficult to judge where we are. I expect us to improve as soon as we put a lap together on the supersoft tyres tomorrow.
Daniil Kvyat: The run programme today was a bit compressed but, nevertheless, we were able to complete most of it, even though I wasn’t able to do as many laps as I would’ve liked to. At least the ones we did were good, even though not everything is clear as conditions were very tricky – it was very easy to make a mistake out there today and we will just try and put it all together tomorrow and see where we are. I don’t think we’re in a bad situation but we need to keep going forward… Tomorrow is a new day!