Red Bull topped the times in both of Friday’s practice sessions for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
In FP1, Max Verstappen set his fastest time on the soft tyre putting himself four-hundredths of a second ahead of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz who were separated by three tenths. While in FP2, Sergio Perez led a Red Bull one-two after going a tenth faster than Verstappen.
This year’s Singapore Grand Prix has become the second race to be cancelled because of Coronavirus restrictions, with the sport now looking for alternatives. The race in the city state was cancelled after the local government decided it is not possible to go ahead with the race while travel limitations remain in place.
Singapore has been one of the places which has managed to control the virus, but believes that opening up for thousands of people to attend the night race was not possible.
There has not yet been an official statement about the Singapore GP, but an F1 spokesperson made clear that the sport’s commercial rights holder was working with promoters to ensure a full schedule could take place.
“We continue to work with all promoters during this fluid time and have plenty of options to adapt if needed,” said the spokesman.
It is understood that F1 has multiple options to slot into the vacant Singapore slot, but no decision has been taken yet. Including the postponed Turkish and Chinese Grands Prix or another race in Austin or somewhere in America.
The race had been due to form a triple header with Sochi and Suzuka in September and October, making it more difficult to re-organise a race in that slot. However the leading plan would be move Japan back a week and slot the race in on 15 – 17 October.
But there could be reluctance from the teams as that would form a quadruple-header with Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Melbourne.
F1 looks set to face ongoing challenges with the calendar over the second half of the season, with several countries continuing to face difficulties in dealing with the virus, as well as international travel restrictions.
Red Bull fastest in practice
Going into this weekend one of the questions was whether Red Bull could come out the box and start to turn the performance in Monaco into real pace and challenge Mercedes for the title. In FP2 Perez was a second faster than Sir Lewis Hamilton and this weekend one of the questions is whether Red Bull are turning the tide against Mercedes in this championship.
Baku is of course a street circuit, and they were strong in Monaco, but we know this is a high-speed circuit where downforce is key. Verstappen was one of the drivers to struggle a bit with the wins and we did see other drivers have the same issues with the winds blowing from the Caspian sea.
Verstappen said after FP2, “Performance-wise, I think we had a great start to the weekend so far; our car in FP1 felt really decent – I mean I was quite comfortable. Then for FP2, I made a few changes to see if it could be better, but I think we went a bit backwards. Of course, we’ll look overnight to see what direction we’ll go into but nevertheless, I think for the team, it’s still a very good day.”
Red Bull need to maximise this performance if we are going to see them challenge Mercedes, when we get to Paul Ricard that is a permanent circuit we could see things change. Sergio Perez appeared to be more comfortable with the car he was fastest in FP2 and that has to
“Fundamentally wrong” with Mercedes
Valtteri Bottas believe there has to be “fundamentally wrong” with Mercedes after he finished FP2 in sixteenth place, two seconds off the outright pace and a second behind his teammate Lewis Hamilton.
The Mercedes drivers both said after practice that there their cars did not feel terrible to drive but were simply not quick enough. Bottas said “It was very, very tricky for us today and clearly we were lacking pace. It feels like it’s just overall grip, you know.
“The balance is not that far off. Okay, the car is maybe a bit unpredictable, but it just feels like lacking grip and sliding around. So I think it’s gonna be a long night tonight.” Mercedes need to get on top those balance issues, Bottas believes they maybe better on long run pace.
Hamilton also appeared to be puzzled by how slow the car was and that his session was clean without mistakes with Mercedes definitively missing a chuck of time. He added, “I was pushing, I was on the limit, but the car is limited, there are areas that I should just be quicker but there’s no more grip. So we’ll work it out.
“It’s not easy to be out of the top ten in a place when we’ve had pace in other places. But yeah, I don’t really know why we are where we are.”
Ferrari “definitely not as quick as in Monaco” – Sainz
Carlos Sainz says that Ferrari is “definitely not as quick as in Monaco” despite finishing third in both FP1 and FP2. The team had a surprise upswing in performance in Monaco a low speed circuit however Baku as we said in the build up to this weekend the expectation has been for them to drop back a bit.
However, they have delivered some solid lap times, despite expecting the high-speed sections would have taken the advantage in Monaco away. Sainz accepted that Ferrari was “definitely a bit quicker than we anticipated” in Baku, but felt the team was not as quick as it had been over the Monaco weekend compared to its rivals.
The Spaniard said after practice, “The long run, we didn’t quite clearly see the pace. So maybe the whole picture is not as clear as it can get. Probably tomorrow will be a better indicator, but we’re definitely not as quick as in Monaco, that’s for sure.”
Sainz believes that Red Bull are looking quicker on both the single and long runs, saying that Ferrari needs can find a bit more lap time.
Leclerc agreed with Sainz’s belief that Ferrari had surpassed its expectations in Baku, but remained wary of the threat that McLaren and Mercedes would pose despite both trailing Ferrari on Friday.
He added, “Maybe it was less of a clean day compared to us. I feel like they are still a bit ahead of us here. We’ll have to wait and see tomorrow. Definitely Red Bull, and Mercedes, I don’t really know what happened either, but I’m pretty sure they will be in front.”
Alonso steps forwards
Going into this weekend Fernando Alonso said it was “a matter of time” before he was back fighting at the front and in FP2 he was sixth fastest but still believes there is more “potential” to find in his Alpine.
The Spaniard was 1.5 seconds off the pace in FP1 before finding nine-tenths in FP2, explaining that his improved form in Baku was down to his efforts to build confidence on the tight city streets, hinting that there was more performance to gain from Alpine’s A521.
He said, “Yes, it was a good Friday. Obviously, on a street circuit, you need to build the confidence, you need to do a clean Friday FP1 and FP2 – as many laps as possible – so, I think we hit the target of the number of laps.”
“We completed the programme; I think there is some potential in the car to unlock tonight and go faster tomorrow, but so far I’m happy with how the weekend has started.”
You need to believe this is a step forwards for Alonso or maybe the uniqueness of Monaco means they did need to check whether Alpine were going to be competitive.