Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time in the first practice session for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Friday. In an eventful first session, Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas had a narrow escape and Sergio Perez looked fast before crashing his Force India.
Verstappen finished about half a second ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, with championship leader Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari third. Mercedes did not fare so well, with Lewis Hamilton one second behind Verstappen in fifth and Bottas sixth.
The first practice got underway under a clear sky with track temperatures at a blistering 54 degrees C (129 degrees F). The 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) Baku circuit, which glides through the city’s medieval walls and passes the Caspian sea, has F1’s fastest top speed and is also one of the trickiest. With its combination of long straights and hard-braking corners, it is a mixture of Monza and Monaco and poses big problems for grip.
Bottas, who set that top speed of 370 kph (230 mph) in last year’s inaugural race, struggled on Turn 10 and barely managed to avoid any contact with the barriers. Hamilton, meanwhile, seemed to get stuck in traffic and with many cars out on track pushing hard it was hard for him to get any room to set a quick time.
With 20 minutes left, the red flag halted the session after Perez mangled both wheels on the right side of his car snaking through into a tight Turn 8. His pink Force India car was lifted off the track against the picturesque backdrop of the castle wall.
The Mexican driver, who also crashed in practice in Baku last year, stood with his hands on hips as he surveyed the damaged vehicle. It was frustrating for Perez, considering he was fourth fastest. The second practice starts late Friday afternoon.