Having clamoured for cars that were harder to drive heading into the 2017 season, it’s safe to say that in Baku, the drivers certainly got their wish.
Over Friday’s two practice sessions, we saw two red flags, and one hundred and thirteen yellows – and they say NASCAR has too many cautions.
With a heady cocktail of higher speeds, wider cars and a particularly low-grip surface, the field resembled less a collection of the most capable drivers on the planet, and more a pack of foals struggling to find their feet.
Everyone from Jolyon Palmer to Sebastian Vettel was having their moments, particularly down into turn 8. Assuming their struggles continue, we could be in for a particularly mixed-up grid come Sunday.
Red Bull on top… but for how long?
A rare day in the sun for Red Bull – the question now is: can they do it when it matters?
Finishing P1 with Max Verstappen’s 1:43.362 and P3 with Daniel Ricciardo 0.111s behind, Red Bull finally seemed to deliver the pace that could put them in race-winning contention. Of course, Friday is not where races are won, and there are plenty of variables that make comparing times an inexact science, but perhaps there’s reason for cautious optimism.
Not only did the Bulls top the timesheets on single lap pace, but they were also sandwiched between Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari and Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes on the super-soft race-sims (neither Lewis Hamilton or Kimi Raikkonen got in comparable runs), per FIA timing data, and that more than anything else bodes well for Sunday.
On the other side – and as Verstappen conceded afterwards – Mercedes is yet to turn up their engines, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them leapfrog both Red Bull and Ferrari on Saturday, but this is unquestionably closer than they were in Canada. Maybe just this once the motorsport gods could grant us a six-way fight for the victory? Pretty please?
Hamilton Struggling Again?
Another low-grip surface, another disconcerting Friday for Lewis Hamilton.
Only having to go back to Sochi for the last time Hamilton struggled on a similar circuit, the three-time world champion once again finds himself trailing well behind teammate Valtteri Bottas by the close of Friday, finishing over a second off the Finn with a best of only 1.44.525s.
With matters made worse by the frequent yellow-flag interruptions, Hamilton seemed to have significant difficulty getting heat into his tyres and could only manage P10 in FP2 after finishing P5 and 0.240s ahead of Bottas in FP1.
If Hamilton wants to continue the run of form he started in Canada, he’ll have to do something he hasn’t been able to yet this season and make some major changes from his Friday setup, lest he end up off the pace as he did in Russia.
- If you thought Hamilton v Vettel was a close match-up, Alonso v Grosjean is quickly catching up in their battle for the title of “Who’s more miserable?” Another engine failure for the Spaniard, more brake problems for the Frenchman – two very unhappy fellas.
- Is Sergio Perez right to request they lower the kerb after his shunt at Turn 8, or was he simply too aggressive? You could make cases either way.
- Deny it all you want, Renault, but at this point the only person who doesn’t want Robert Kubica at Renault is Mr. and Mrs. Palmer and Cyril…