Max Verstappen’s late flying lap was good enough to top a sole, disrupted practice session for the Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix ahead of qualifying. With the new sprint weekend format in place, drivers were only given one 60-minute session to get to grips with the Baku City circuit, with a 1m:42.315s from Verstappen good enough to secure P1 in the dying stages of the session. He traded times at the top with Charles Leclerc, pipping the Ferrari by just 0.037s with Sergio Perez unable to reassert himself at the head of the times, ending up third fastest, 0.139s behind Verstappen. Nearly a quarter of the session was wiped out early on when Pierre Gasly’s Alpine caught fire, with qualifying for the Grand Prix taking place at 2pm UK time on Friday afternoon. Gasly’s disruption With cars filtering out of the pitlane, it was initially Lando Norris on the Hard tyres using McLaren’s new floor updates who went quickest, before being quickly usurped by Nyck de Vries on the Softs in his first F1 visit to Baku. His time was quickly beaten by both Verstappen and Perez, a 1m:45.154s on the Mediums for the World Champion good enough to take him P1 as both Carlos Sainz and Yuki Tsunoda suffered wall-strikes in the opening minutes. However, Gasly’s Alpine suffered a loss of hydraulic pressure, causing flames to be visible from the rear of the car and smoke to billow out of the airbox as he stopped at Turn 12, but not before Verstappen had set a 1m:43.834s to stand as the fastest time. It caused a 13 minute red flag, with Kevin Magnussen’s Haas also being recovered after stopping at Turn 1 with what boss Guenther Steiner called a loss of fuel pressure. On the restart, Lewis Hamilton, having complained on brake problems, went out on the Mediums, pumping in a 1m:47.442s as Mercedes focused on high fuel running. Soft tyres bolted on Alex Albon was first to set a Soft tyre qualifying run time, but was quickly knocked off top spot by Verstappen – who pumped in a 1m:43.042s. However, moments later, Perez came through and bettered that by 0.391s to leapfrog to P1 as Leclerc was forced to abandon his first timed lap after a mistake. He recovered to put in a 1m:42.352s and go fastest, before a subsequent run from Verstappen took him P1 on a 1m:42.315s. Perez improved on his final lap, but not by enough and ended up third ahead of Carlos Sainz, Norris, de Vries, Lance Stroll, Fernando Alonso, Albon and Zhou Guanyu. Alonso, like both Mercedes did not complete a Soft tyre run, with Hamilton ending 11th 1.483s off the pace, with George Russell down in 17th. Oscar Piastri, Valtteri Bottas, Yuki Tsunoda, Nico Hulkenberg and Logan Sargeant split the two Mercedes drivers, Sargeant the slowest of those who did complete a Soft tyre run. Following Gasly’s fire, Alpine also detected a problem on the sister car of Esteban Ocon, limiting his running, as Gasly and Magnussen rounded out the times.
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