Lewis Hamilton Dominates European GP Practice In Azerbaijan

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton dominated Friday practice at the new Baku City Circuit while competitors Ferrari and Red Bull struggled to get to grips with it.

Today saw the Formula One circus head to Azerbaijan for the first time which hosts this year’s European Grand Prix. The European Grand Prix has not been on the F1 calendar since 2012, where it was hosted at the Valencia Street Circuit in Spain.

The 6.003km Baku City Circuit has been designed by architect Hermann Tilke. Long straights combined with tight, twisty corners through the historic Baku Old City has made the Azerbaijani circuit a tough challenge for all of the drivers, as shown by the numerous mistakes made during free practice.

Free Practice One

Like in every first practice session in 2016, both Mercedes drivers were out first and quickly got to grips with the new Baku City Circuit. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg exchanged times at the top of the timesheets as the track continued to grip up and more rubber was laid down on the circuit. Haas F1’s Esteban Gutierrez was the first driver to take to the run-off area, locking-up at the tricky Turn 15. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat followed Gutierrez off at the same corner minutes later.

Hamilton and Rosberg remained at the summit of the timesheets until the chequered flag but were briefly displaced by Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, who looked to be back on form following on from his third place finish at the last race in Canada. Bottas ended FP1 in third place, six-tenths off Hamilton’s fastest time.

The long straights of Baku are not expected to suit the McLaren-Honda package, however, Fernando Alonso showed good speed on his way to fourth fastest, finishing the session ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in fifth and Force India’s Sergio Perez in sixth position.

Red Bull suffered a torrid session with Max Verstappen suffering a clutch problem meaning the Dutchman could only complete seven laps. Daniel Ricciardo came off much worse, heavily damaging the rear of his RB12 which resulted in the first and only red flag of first practice. The Australian was able to get back out for FP2.

Free Practice Two

Second practice in Baku was in serious doubt after the feeder series’ qualifying session, GP2, was rescheduled due to concerns about the kerbs damaging the tyres. The session went ahead as planned which allowed all of the drivers to complete their qualifying and race simulations.

It was more of the same for the Mercedes team as they continued to dominate proceedings in Azerbaijan. Rosberg was the first man to break the 1:45 minute barrier, however, Hamilton responded after making a mistake at Turn 15 on his first flying lap on the supersoft tyres to go seven-tenths clear of his German teammate. Rosberg had been running an older power unit during Friday practice and came to a halt with 20 minutes on the clock.

Further down the field, after impressing in first practice Valtteri Bottas continued to show that Williams are serious podium contenders this weekend, however, he was beaten by Force India’s Sergio Perez later on in the session. Ferrari endured a terrible session as both Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen suffered electrical problems which forced the latter to stop out on the circuit. Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz was the highest non-Mercedes powered car in sixth ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who completed 35 laps in the RB12.

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Reigning world champion Hamilton is the man to beat going into qualifying while both Ferrari and Red Bull have a lot of work to do if they are to repeat the form shown by both teams in recent races. Williams and Force India will be optimistic going into Saturday’s qualifying session.