The second practice was the only real running in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku after the Williams of George Russell brought FP1 to a very early end after hitting a loose drain cover.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc outpaced teammate Sebastian Vettel by three-tenths of a second in second practice ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The Monacan avoided much of the drama on track to finish three tenths faster than Vettel.
Drain hole cover causes chaos
Baku is known for its drama and this year that drama came within the first half hour as George Russell ran over a loose drain cover which caused “hundreds of thousands” of pounds.
The British driver struck the manhole cover in FP1 between Turn Two and Three early on causing the session to be abandoned for safety checks. While it left his car with significant damage and cracking the chassis. Its also left the team which has struggled this year with more work to do.
Speaking to the media, deputy team principal Claire Williams said “It never rains but it pours this year. It could have been worse than it was. A drain cover coming off like that could have done a lot more damage.”
“George is fine and that’s the most important thing, and the FIA are clearly taking it incredibly seriously and making sure every one of those manhole covers is checked and bolted down as they should be.” The Williams team will be seeking compensation from the circuit, as it was not the teams’ responsibility.
The team would not be drawn on the exact cost of the repair bill as it was not responsible for the accident.
Last time this happened at Sepang in 2017, Haas was compensated by the circuit. However, the case took almost a year to be settled.
Williams to seek compensation for car damage caused by drain cover
Baku officials said the loose manhole cover had been caused by an “undetectable problem”, which FIA race director Michael Masi said related to one of the underground clamps holding it down.
Ferrari unveils upgrades
In a bid to try and catch Mercedes, Ferrari has unveiled its first major upgrade of the season. This weekend, the team has brought a few changes to its car including changes to its bargeboards.
The small strakes at the front have been reconfigured, with the second collection of mini-bargeboard elements has been enlarged, while the piece to the right of that has lost its slots. Those should work in tandem to improve the airflow outwards.
A flick underneath the sidepod turning vanes to both cleans up the airflow channelled around by the bargeboard. The team is also running a lower drag wing for the Baku straights, although it appears to be aimed at delivering more downforce than other teams.
Sebastian Vettel is hoping that the updates to the car will start to give Mercedes a “very hard time”, with the developments expected to deliver straight away.
Vettel said, “If you improve the car, in general, it helps you here, and obviously everywhere else. That is the idea. The target is to make the car faster so it is pretty straightforward, no matter where we go.”
“Hopefully we can find the same results on track that we found in the tunnel, hopefully the numbers stack up, and we see how much of a jump we can do.”
His teammate Charles Leclerc added that Ferrari’s package “should be going in the right direction.”
Unlikely to close the gap – Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton believes it is “unlikely” that Mercedes can close the gap to Ferrari after being seven tenths off in practice in Baku. In FP2, the five times champion was six tenths off the pace of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
The five times champion admitted it had been “a bit of an odd day” on track, but conceded that the early signs from Ferrari were ominous. He said “FP2 went really well, I was feeling good out there and I was more comfortable in the car than I was last year.”
“However, the Ferraris are clearly very quick, and it looks like they’re quite a bit ahead of us, so we’ll need to investigate to see where we are losing time compared to them.” He says that Mercedes are unlikely to find seven tenths overnight, but says they will do everything we can to push the car in the right direction.
Bottas ended the day 1.1s off the pace and almost half a second down on his teammate, conceding afterwards that he was “not really pleased with the laps I did”.
Gasly handed a pit lane start
Pierre Gasly will start Sunday’s race from the pit lane after failing to stop at the weighbridge in FP2. The Frenchman finished ninth, but failed to spot his number had been indicated to stop for a mandatory weight check and continued to his Red Bull pit box.
Gasly then went on to do a practice pit stop, changing all four tyres, with the FIA deeming he had broken the rules and handing him a pit lane start.
The statement from the stewards said, “The Stewards reviewed video evidence and heard from the driver of car 10 (Pierre Gasly) and the team representative and determined that the driver failed to stop for weighing when required to do so.”
“Instead, he drove on and proceeded to do a pit stop where the car was worked on by lifting the car and all four wheels were changed, in breach of Article 29.1 a). Under Article 29.1 a) the penalty for this infringement is specified to be for the car to start from the pitlane and we so order.”
New Honda engine gives more power
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says that the latest Honda engine will allow the team to improve its performance because of the increased availability of higher power modes.
Both Red Bull’s and sister team Toro Rosso’s have taken new V6 power units ahead of Friday practice in Baku, while Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly also took new turbos, MGU-Hs and MGU-Ks. While Honda says it upgrade is focus on reliability but Horner says it will also be benefits to performance.
He said “So far the engine has run absolutely problem-free, throughout testing and throughout all the races to date. This engine has been introduced based on an issue they saw with a Toro Rosso engine.”
“It also enables us to run slightly more aggressive modes in the race as well. It’s been hugely impressive, the effort and quality of stuff that’s coming through from Honda.”
Horner is confident that the team will be able to close the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari though improvements on both the chassis and engine sides. Adding “I think trying to specify an amount of wins is always going to be extremely difficult. Our goal is to converge to where the current benchmark is, which is currently Mercedes. I think we’re doing that.”
Tomorrow’s qualifying is a bit of a difficult one to predict as we have lost so much running today. You need to imagine that it will be a battle between the Mercedes and Ferrari, however, today has proved that anything can happen in Baku.
As with all street circuits, being on track at the right time is really important both because of accidents and the track will get faster through out the session. This maybe a fast session and don’t expect Red Bull to get into the mix, they don’t have the power to chase the Mercedes and Ferrari.