Max Verstappen topped the first and only practice session of the 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend, a few hours ahead of qualifying.
It was always going to be a challenge for the teams to get their cars set up for the weekend ahead in only 60 minutes but Red Bull showed that when you have a car as good as the RB19, you will not be affected by limited practice time.
Verstappen was pushing in the final moments of FP1, in pure “Max Style” to go fastest of all flirting with the walls of Baku several times.
He was followed by Charles Leclerc who survived multiple spins to go second fastest, while Sergio Perez was third fastest.
Carlos Sainz was fourth fastest in the #55 Ferrari, as the Scuderia seems to be the closest challenger to Red Bull this weekend at Azerbaijan, on a day where Mercedes struggled with brake problems and Aston Martin suffered from DRS issues with Fernando Alonso.
Buildup towards FP1
Finally Formula 1‘s “spring break” is over and we can get back to racing, as action resumes around the streets of Azerbaijan’s capital city Baku.
And a highly anticipated weekend it is, with the first of the six planned Sprint Races taking place, and with a new format that will reduce the teams’ preparation times to just one hour on Friday with Qualifying for Sunday’s Grand Prix being the second session of the weekend while Saturday will be reserved fully for the Sprint and its shootout.
Red Bull naturally are the favorites once again, but it would be anyone guess how the fight behind them transpires, with Aston Martin holding the advantage based on the first three races, while Mercedes and Ferrari try to sort out their issues once again.
We come into this weekend with several stories, with the news of AlphaTauri’s Frank Tost retirement plans with Laurent Mekies heading over from Maranello to Faenza to replace him, not to mention the major technical reshuffle at Mercedes with James Allison returning to the Technical Director role to try and pick up the pieces from Mike Elliott’s era of “narrow sidepods”, as the eight-time Constructors’ Champions plot their return to the front of the grid.
A Sprint Race around the tight streets of Baku should serve a treat, and with two qualifying sessions over the course of the weekend their should be an abundancy of drama, that may mix things up.
Baku FP1 Session highlights
Pirelli have gone towards the softer end of their tyre spectrum bringing the C3 (Hard), C4 (Medium), and C5 (Soft) compounds to Azerbaijan.
A reminder of the tyre compounds at the #AzerbaijanGP this week 🇦🇿
FP1 started in clear conditions with a 20 degree ambient temperature while the track temperature was 44 degrees, and the teams did not waste any time to send their drivers out on track as soon as the pitlane was open.
Before Red Bull went into action, they had some time to celebrate Dr. Helmut Marko’s 80th birthday.
Lando Norris went straight on at Turn 1 early in the session causing a brief Yellow Flag, as soon after that, Carlos Sainz clipped the wall at Turn 5 with his left front tyre, but survived to no apparat damage on his SF-23.
Ten minutes into the session, Yuki Tsunoda suffered a puncture and a broken rim on his rear-right tyre, and limped back to the pit. The cause of his puncture was clipping the wall at the exit of Turn 3.
A spin for Tsunoda results in a tyre puncture after contact with the wall
Mercedes did not have a good start for their weekend in Baku, as Lewis Hamilton complained to his team about the state of his brakes.
“I have no brakes at the moment,” he tells his team, as a few minutes later, teammate George Russell reports a similar issue to his engineers.
“Brakes feel pretty poor, not much deceleration,” Russell added.
Pierre Gasly, 15 minutes into the session, suffered a failure on his Alpine A523, with smoke coming out from the rear of the car, flames visible as the team asked him to avoid shifting on his way back to the session.
Gasly parked his car at the side of the track at Turn 12 bringing out the inevitable Red Flags, while Kevin Magnussen also stopped at the run-off area of Turn 1.
Magnussen walked back to the pits and reported that he lost power on his Ferrari-powered Haas VF-23.
Bad news for the teams who will now have even less time to set their cars up. The session was resumed with 30 minutes remaining on the clock as the teams rushed back on track to finish as much as they could from their programs.
Alpine soon tweeted an update on Gasly’s failure and revealed he suffered a loss in hydraulic pressure.
Matters became worse for Alpine, as following Gasly’s failure, the team decided against sending Esteban Ocon out after the session was resumed worrying about a similar failure on his car. This means Alpine will head towards qualifying with literally no data.
With twenty minutes remaining, Charles Leclerc brought out the Yellow Flags as he missed his braking point going into Turn 15.
Five minutes later, Fernando Alonso reported that the DRS on his AMR 23 was not working, upon which his team informed him of an issue with the car and instructing him to box.
Leclerc made another mistake minutes later, also missing his braking into Turn 2 and heading into the run-off area, bringing out another brief Yellow Flag.
Williams’s Logan Sargeant also suffered a massive lockup going flat-spotting his Soft tyres and went back to the pits.
At the end of the session, all drivers head to the start/finish line to practice the starts.
How they finished
Max Verstappen drove around Baku street circuit fastest of all, clocking a 1:42.315 on Soft tyres, while Charles Leclerc was on 0.037s behind him in second.
Sergio Perez was third fastest in the sister Red Bull, 0.139s off the pace of his teammate, while Carlos Sainz was 0.445s further down the road in fourth.
Lando Norris was fifth fastest for McLaren, registering a lap time of 1:43.125, with Nyck de Vries 0.289s behind the Briton in sixth, the Dutchman showing impressive pace on his Baku debut.
Lance Stroll was the fastest of the Aston Martin pair, seventh, 1.140s off the pace with Fernando Alonso behind him in eighth by 0.105s.
Alexander Albon made good use of his Williams’ straight-line to break into the top ten, ninth fastest with a lap time of 1:43.628, while Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu was tenth, 0.120s behind the Thai driver.