Championship leader Max Verstappen fastest in first practice in Azerbaijan
Championship leader Max Verstappen finished fastest in the first practice session of the Azerbaijani Grand Prix on Sunday.
The Red Bull driver, who is four points ahead of Lewis Hamilton, edged Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc by 0.043 seconds in Baku, his Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz third.
Hamilton was only seventh after leaving the track on his fastest lap.
Verstappen came to Azerbaijan in charge of the championship for the first time in his career after knocking out rival Hamilton from first place after his dominant victory in Monaco a fortnight ago.
The Dutchman was twice delayed by traffic – first by Alpine Esteban Ocon and then by rookie Nikita Mazepin on his Haas – before setting the best time of the hour-long session.
But the grid looks seamless heading into the rest of the weekend, with McLaren’s car seemingly suited to the sport’s fastest street circuit.
Indeed, Lando Norris was on track to achieve the fastest time of the session after setting the fastest section once and twice, to finally slip through the last corner before the long race to the finish line.
The British driver, impressive third in the standings, had to settle for eighth place, his teammate Daniel Ricciardo fifth.
Hamilton will be eager to bounce back in Round 6 of the campaign after finishing seventh in Monte-Carlo, ending his 19-race lead in the standings.
The seven-time world champion was the fastest out of the blocks in Baku, but failed to improve his first time after coming straight into Turn 15 to the left on his second quick run.
He backed up on the track and headed for the pits without sustaining any damage, but he finished the race 0.709 seconds behind his title rival.
Ferrari will be encouraged by their first performances after a good weekend in Monte Carlo, while Sergio Perez finished fourth for Red Bull, half a second slower than his teammate.
Valtteri Bottas, who arrived in Baku on Thursday night after his flight from Finland was grounded following a technical failure, finished 10th, 1.7 seconds off pace.