Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Max Verstappen was just ahead of Charles Leclerc in a Red Flag shortened only practice of the weekend.
Max Verstappen led the way out onto the Baku Street Circuit as the only practice session of the weekend started. While Sprint weekends for the past two years would see the Friday afternoon practice replaced by qualifying, the new format which was announced earlier this week will now have Saturday as Sprint day with the Shootout to set the grid for the Sprint taking place in the morning instead of a practice.
AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries was the first to put a time on the board, a 1:49.541, and after the first ten minutes of the session it was Charles Leclerc’s 1:45.129 as the best so far, just 0.025 seconds ahead of Max Verstappen.
Yellow flags were very frequent during the session with drivers going into the run offs and more. Carlos Sainz clipped the wall at the T5 apex, the Ferrari driver seemingly turning in a bit too tight and hitting his front left but he was able to keep going. A few minutes later Yuki Tsunoda tapped his rear right, sending him into a spin and puncturing his tyre. The AlphaTauri racer got himself back facing the correct way and headed for the pits but the tyre rubber was sliding around on the rim and his rear right corner looking less than pristine.
The session was Red Flagged after fifteen minutes when Kevin Magnussen stopped in the T1 run off as his Haas lost power while at the same time Pierre Gasly’s Alpine was spitting fire out the back after a hydraulic failure. The initial flames on the Frenchman’s car were doused but smoke continued pouring out of the airbox before the marshals shot extinguisher fluid right down it and into the car’s innards.
The session got back underway with just over half an hour still to go and at that point Verstappen’s 1:43.834 was the time to beat while his teammate, Sergio Perez, over two and a half tenths behind in P2.
Alpine’s day ended with the Red Flag as Esteban Ocon’s car remained on the stands in his garage so the team could make sure Gasly’s issue wouldn’t be repeated.
The track quietened down with about fifteen minutes to go, as cars swapped to the softs to practice for qualifying this afternoon. Leclerc hadn’t had the smoothest of times after the Red Flag, having gone into the runoff on a few occasions. Fernando Alonso meanwhile had issues opening his DRS but Aston Martin were able to sort that and get him back out for the final five minutes.
With ten minutes to go Alex Albon got to enjoy P1 for a few seconds as he jumped to the top with a 1:43.628 but Verstappen went half a second quicker before Perez went even quicker with a 1:42.651.
The top time swapped between the Red Bulls and Leclerc but in the end it was the reigning champion who took the spot with a 1:42.315 but there wasn’t much in it as he was only 0.037 seconds ahead of Leclerc. Perez was a tenth further back in P3 while Sainz in P4 was over half a second down on the top two.
It was a strong performance from Lando Norris, the McLaren driver slotting into P5 with a 1:43.125, the last driver within a second of Verstappen. De Vries took P6 for AlphaTauri ahead of the two Aston Martins of Lance Stroll and Alonso while Albon and Zhou Guanyu rounded out the top ten.