BAKU (Reuters) – Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo staked his claim to a repeat Azerbaijan Grand Prix victory with the fastest time in Friday practice while Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton remained off the pace.
Australian Ricciardo, the man of the moment after winning in China two weekends ago, lapped the fast straights and tight turns of the street circuit with a best time of one minute 42.795 seconds on ultrasoft tyres.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was second fastest on a cool and gusty evening, a mere 0.069 slower, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen coming back strongly from an afternoon crash with the third best time.
Finland’s Valtteri Bottas, who was quickest in the opening session for Mercedes in a time of 1:44.242, was fourth while team mate Hamilton could manage only fifth.
Ricciardo, winner of a chaotic race in Baku last year, had been a 0.035 of a second slower than Bottas in the first practice.
The early story was provided by 20-year-old Verstappen, who had promised on Thursday to drive faster but with more control after a season littered with collisions and spins.
Instead, the Dutch driver locked up while braking and skidded sideways into the tyre wall with 55 minutes remaining, sitting out the remainder of the session while his mechanics prepared to rebuild the car.
Verstappen was still quicker than Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the championship leader he apologized to in China after they collided as the Red Bull was trying to overtake, who was 10th and 11th respectively.
Vettel, winner of the opening two races, appeared to be struggling for grip and spun several times in the late afternoon.
The German had been 2.2 seconds off the pace in the earlier practice, while Raikkonen lost plenty of time in the pits with a power unit problem.
Mexican Sergio Perez opened his day with a third fastest lap for Mercedes-powered Force India, with French team mate Esteban Ocon fifth in a promising sign for a team with only one point so far this season.
They dropped back to 12th and seventh respectively later in the day, however.
Williams, the only team yet to score, also showed a glimmer of improvement with Russian Sergey Sirotkin eighth in the opening stint.
Vettel leads Hamilton by nine points in the championship, with the Briton still chasing his first win since last October’s U.S. Grand Prix.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Jon Boyle and Christian Radnedge