Lewis Hamilton proved he is the man to beat on Formula 1’s first visit to Azerbaijan after completing a practice double at the Baku Street Circuit.
The triple world champion, who chose not to walk the track on Thursday and completed only a handful of laps on the simulator, was nearly four-tenths of a second clear of his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in the opening session before later extending that advantage to almost seven-tenths after posting a best lap of one minute and 44.223 seconds.
Rosberg’s day then took a turn for the worse after he reported a problem with his Mercedes, and was told to stop his car on track with 20 minutes of the afternoon session remaining.
Formula 1 is making its first foray to the oil-rich state, and the opening day of action on the streets of Baku, its capital city, did not come without incident. Indeed the second 90-minute practice session for the European Grand Prix was thrown into doubt after qualifying for GP2 – Formula 1’s feeder series – was abandoned due to safety concerns with the kerbing at turns six and 12.
FIA officials, including race director Charlie Whiting, spent the two-and-a-half hour period in between Friday’s practice sessions trying to resolve the issue.
“Some small bolts had come loose at the end of the kerbs on turns six and 12, so we’ve taken the bolts out and welded the kerbs to each other,” Whiting, said. “Everything’s new, they’ve done the best they could, and we just needed to do a bit of fixing.”
But just moments into the second session, turn six continued to be a problem. The drivers were subsequently ordered by race control not to use the kerbs on the exit of the turn in question with the FIA set to examine the area after practice.
While Jenson Button, the 2009 world champion, feared the lack of run-off area at a street circuit, which has been billed as the quickest in Formula 1 history, could contribute to a big accident, Daniel Ricciardo was the only driver to find himself in the wall.
Ricciardo lost control of his Red Bull in the opening session at turn 15, and while the impact was relatively minor, it was enough to sustain significant damage to the right rear of his car. Amazingly Ricciardo’s team performed a prompt turnaround to get his car ready for second practice.
But it was not a good day for Red Bull and indeed Ferrari with both teams well off the pace of Mercedes.
Max Verstappen was seventh, while Sebastian Vettel could manage only eighth, more than two seconds adrift of Hamilton.