Mercedes and Red Bull have topped a practice session each ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix. In FP1, Valtteri Bottas was three thousandths off a second faster than the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo. While Ricciardo was six-hundredths faster than Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen in FP2.
The top three teams Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes looked close once again close on track. Red Bull was fastest in the most important second session as Ricciardo had a gap six hundredths over Kimi Raikkonen. I think Red Bull has delivered a car, which is stronger than we expected, and that Mercedes is possibly where Red Bull was last year.
We want a close fight between the top three teams, which we have got and I think that Red Bull are the main players as we saw last year they were slow out the mark. But they are causing a headache for the top two.
You need to ask are Ferrari having an off weekend, as we haven’t seen them perform at their best today. But as we see all season there is very little between the top group on track and that could because of the operating window when it comes to tyres.
Lewis Hamilton in FP2 backed off as he made a mistake on his fastest lap so we could see more from the Mercedes in FP3 and qualifying tomorrow. Valtteri Bottas led FP1, but this race is earlier than last season, so that means that track conditions will vary and we are two months earlier this year.
Hamilton said “It’s been a smooth day. We got through everything we needed without many mistakes and we gathered lots of information. It started out quite warm but cooled down in the afternoon, which made it interesting to try and understand the tyres in both conditions.”
“Overall, we weren’t quick enough today, both Red Bull and Ferrari seem to be ahead of us at the moment. So, we’ve got some work to do. I’m going to be knocking on the doors of all the engineers overnight, so that we can hopefully make the right changes.”
Vettel takes responsibility underperformance
Sebastian Vettel has taken responsibility for his underperformance in both of the practice sessions, however, the Ferrari driver remains confident that he will be able to challenge for pole still in qualifying tomorrow.
The German could only manage tenth in FP1 and in FP2, after he made a mistake on his low fuel run and on soft tyres. That meant he finished FP2 eleventh fastest one second and three-tenths of Ricciardo.
When asked if there was a problem with the car, Vettel refused to blame his tools. Saying “It’s all in me and I think the car is fine. I didn’t get the laps together and it can happen very easily here with a little mistake under braking. The long run was a lot better and I think we can improve the car tomorrow and we should be OK.”
Asked if he was struggling with the unusual track layout in Baku, Old City, Vettel said he seemed to be having more issues than his rivals.
“It is a tricky one, but then again it’s tricky for all of us. I think I struggled a little bit more than the others but I’m not too worried. Towards the end I had a good read of the situation and I think we can improve tomorrow.”
Verstappen’s woes continue
Max Verstappen’s difficult start to the season continued as a crash in FP1 brought his session to an end, followed by a sensor issue which cut short his running in FP2.
The Dutchman’s day appeared to end on a disappointing note when he coasted back to the pits at the end of FP2, having recovered from a crash in the first session to post the third-quickest. Speaking about the crash he said “It was a bit more windy, but I don’t know, I lost the rear, spun, of course hit the wall.”
“It was a shame. It was a bit slippery at the start. I couldn’t catch the car and hit the wall. You just have to feel your way into the track because it was very dusty and slippery, as I found out.” Despite his own problems, he still believes that the team remain in good shape overall for the weekend.
Force India in FP1 and McLaren in FP2 led the midfield, as we have said since winter testing that is also a very tight group. In China, we know that Sergio Perez was not happy with the lack of straight-line speed as well as Williams’s Lance Stroll.
I believe that from what I have seen on track, this group has closed up but is that because of the type of circuit that we are at this weekend?
Perez said “The fight in the middle of the grid is going to be very close, but I think we can be competitive. The work we have done today gives me encouragement and I have a good feeling with the car.”
“The main priority tomorrow is to make sure we deliver a perfect qualifying session so we can be high up the grid for the race. The track conditions at the end of the day saw the temperatures drop quite a lot”
I think Williams given time will start to also come into that group, but I am still a b surprised by the underperformance. Over the past few races, it appears as if the team hasn’t delivered and they just failed to correct the issues that they had last year.
Lance Stroll said “It was a tricky day for everyone. We saw a lot of lock-ups and a lot of yellow flags. There was a lot of traffic out there, as expected, but it was still a positive day in many ways. We are still not where we want to be.”
“At the same time, we saw some improvement in FP1 and then in FP2 we dropped back a little bit, but it is still much better than where we were over the last few events. “
McLaren, as we been staying, has made some progress, but as they admitted earlier this week they still have problems. Yes McLaren is doing better but the management has not seen the results that they were expected.
Fernando Alonso the team said had spent the afternoon working on evaluating a number of small upgrades aimed at improving the performance and was ‘satisfied’ with the improvements made.
While Stoffel Vandoorne struggled in both sessions, as he was unable to secure a clear quick-lap when running on fresh rubber. He was nonetheless satisfied with the progress made by the team this weekend.
Alonso said “Ours was a comfortable car to drive today – that’s always important on a street circuit, where you have to attack the corners and feel confident in the car. Today, we had a car that performed well in all three sectors, each of which is fairly unique.
“This weekend’s updates were introduced in order to help deal with the circuit’s characteristics, and seem to be working as we expected. It feels like we’ve found a little bit of speed compared to the last few races.”
Vandoorne added “From my side, it feels much better than it looks on the time-sheets. We didn’t get a proper run on the Ultrasoft tyre, encountering some traffic, and I had a little brush against the wall, too, so I wasn’t able to improve over the time I set on the Supersoft.
“There’s definitely more to come. Hopefully, we can put all the pieces together and have a positive result tomorrow.”
Qualifying is looking as if it going to be a three way battle between Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari. Mercedes I feel has more to prove with their performance in the first three races as this is their longest spell without taking a win since 2013.
They will know that they need to beat Ferrari, who are believed to have the better car on track now. Mercedes need a good session as do Williams and McLaren who have not managed to really perform in qualifying to the level they are expected too!
Track timing will be key, as a street circuit can throw up drama on track and both sessions have been interrupted by red and yellow flags. It can lead to some odd results, big teams will need to be wary s we have seen them get it wrong and go out early on.