Max Verstappen topped the schedule in an eventful first – and only – practice session of the weekend in Baku, with the Dutch rider leading Charles Leclerc and teammate Sergio Perez, in preparation for today’s Grand Prix qualifying.
With a single 60-minute session available to take control of the Baku City Circuit under the new Sprint format, the drivers showed that their intention was to maximize every second of FP1. Led by Verstappen, the majority of the cars lined up at the pit exit waiting for the light to turn green.
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While Verstappen set the early pace on the medium tyre, ahead of Perez and Leclerc, it wasn’t good news for AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda, who hit the barrier at Turn 3 and suffered a right-rear puncture, forcing him to pit.
Moments later, red flags were waved due to The Alps at Pierre Gasly are on fire due to a hydraulic problem, with the French driver being forced to stop off the track. Meanwhile, Kevin Magnussen stopped at turn one with a fuel pressure problem.
On restart, Verstappen again led all drivers onto the track, with the exception of Esteban Ocon, who did not appear for the rest of the session, bringing an end to a spirited first practice for Alpine.
As the drivers switched from stiffer compounds to soft tires for some simulated qualifying runs, it was Verstappen who left it until his last lap of the course to go faster, with a time of 1m42.315s to lead Leclerc, in second, by just 0.037s.
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Pérez finished third in the standings, ahead of the other Ferrari of Carlos Sainz – who made slight contact with the barrier at Turn Five – as Lando Norris displayed the pace of his upgraded McLaren MCL60 to round out the top five.
Nic de Vries – one of two drivers on the grid besides Logan Sargeant yet to score a point – was the sixth fastest AlphaTauri driver, ahead of the Aston Martin pair of Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso.
Alex Albon was ninth among the Williams’s, ahead of Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo, and eleventh-placed Lewis Hamilton – who had recovered from a brake problem in his Mercedes W14 that forced him to stop early in the session.
Oscar Piastri – who spent most of the session testing new parts for McLaren – was 12th, ahead of 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix winner Valtteri Bottas and, in the other Alfa Romeo, Tsunoda’s Alphatore.
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Nico Hulkenberg was 15th for Haas, ahead of Williams’ Logan Sargeant and Mercedes’ George Russell – who, like teammate Hamilton, did not set a fast time on the soft tyre.
Bottom line were the three drivers whose laps ended early, with Ocon and Gasly 18th and 19th respectively, with Magnussen last.
Join us again to qualify for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday at 1700 local time.
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