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Verstappen sets opening pace in Baku

NEWS STORY
28/04/2023

Before we go any further, we must apologise for the sparse coverage over the last couple of days but this has been due to an issue totally outside our control... namely no Internet.

We have tried adapting as best as possible while we await the resumption of service, so please bear with us.

Interestingly, as we watch the world go by, youngsters on their way to school, mums with children, people heading to the station... all have their faces buried in those rectangular screens... naively unaware how easily it can all be taken away.

Anyway, ahead of this weekend's sole practice session the air temperature is 20 degrees C, while the track temperature is 45 degrees. It is somewhat overcast.

In term of updates, Red Bull has a new Sidepod Inlet, Coke/Engine Cover, Floor Edge, Floor Fences and Rear Corner, while Ferrari has a new Rear Wing.

Mercedes has a new Rear Wing Endplate, Front Corner, Rear Corner and Front Suspension, while Alpine has a new Floor Body, Front Suspension, Rear Suspension, Rear Wing and Front Wing.

McLaren has a new Floor Body, two Rear Wing and three variations of Beam Wing, while Alfa Romeo has a new Rear Wing, Beam Wing and Front Wing, and Aston Martin a new Rear Wing as does Haas.

AlphaTauri has a new Front Wing, Coke/Engine Cover, Rear Wing, Beam Wing and Rear Corner, while Williams has a new Beam Wing and Nose.

Of course, Baku being Baku a lot of these upgrades are circuit specific, for with only one practice session there is scant time for testing components for forthcoming races.

Ahead of the green light Perez is heading the queue at the end of the pitlane, ahead of de Vries, Perez, Sainz and Hulkenberg.

As more drivers head out all three compounds are in use.

Perez posts a benchmark 47.491, ahead of Tsunoda, Verstappen, Leclerc and Stroll, Sargeant has to use the escape road at Turn 1.

As Alonso goes quickest (47.447), Sainz has a very, very, very close encounter with the barriers.

Both Mercedes drivers are reporting brake issues.

Norris goes quickest with a 47.146, as Leclerc goes second ahead of Alonso.

De Vries goes quickest (46.432) on softs, while Norris and Leclerc are on hards and Alonso mediums.

'Moments' for Tsunoda and Magnussen see the yellows waved.

"We have a puncture Yuki," the AlphaTauri driver is told. "Puncture" is an understatement, the Japanese driver had no tyre remaining after clouting the wall at Turn 3.

Leclerc has gone quickest with a 45.129, while Verstappen has gone second with a 45.154.

As Tsunoda makes his way back to the pits the right-rear corner of the car is dragging along the tarmac which won't be doing it any good at all.

Meanwhile, Verstappen improves to 43.834 with teammate Perez second on 44.116. Both are on mediums.

More drama as Gasly has flames coming out of the rear of his car.

Woo Hoo... the session is red-flagged as Gasly stops on track as does Magnussen.

We say "Woo Hoo" because our Internet connection is back up.

Of course, it won't be Woo Hoo as far as the teams are concerned because they are losing valuable track time.

The session will resume at 13:58 leaving just 32 minutes of running.

Alpine's issues was down to loss of hydraulic pressure while Guenther Steiner has "no idea" what happened with Magnussen.

Most drivers are now running on the mediums, though a few are on hards.

De Vries improves to 44.866 on the mediums, as teammate Tsunoda heads back out.

"Zhou, he's in the way," cries a clearly frustrated Stroll. "It's continuous push," he is told.

Sainz uses the escape road at Turn 7, the Ferraris currently third and fourth behind the Bulls.

A 44.053 sees Stroll split the Bulls, as Alonso complains that his DRS is not opening.

With 14 minutes remaining, Piastri is the first to switch to softs as the preparations for qualifying begin. Sargeant also fits the red-banded rubber.

Piastri goes seventh with a 44.558, while Sargeant improves to ninth with a 44.900.

Red is now definitely the order of the day, as the Bulls trade fastest sectors.

Albon goes quickest with a 43.628 but he is demoted when Verstappen crosses the line at 43.042.

Perez responds with a 42.651 as Leclerc has had a moment at Turn 2, running his first flying lap.

Hamilton goes fourth with a 43.798... on mediums.

A big lock-up for Sargeant at Turn 1.

PBs in ther first two sectors for Verstappen but he backs off in the final sector.

Norris goes fourth with a 43.125 but is demoted when Leclerc goes second (42.744), and Sainz claims fourth with a 43.010.

Told the team wants to try a "live pit stop", Hamilton replies: "I don't really want too, mate!" The seven-time world champion is currently ninth.

With two minutes remaining, Russell finally heads out on mediums.

A 42.352 sees Leclerc go quickest, while Alonso, on mediums, improves to 8th with a 43.560.

However, at the death, Verstappen bangs in a 42.315, out-pacing Leclerc by 0.037s.

The session ends, Verstappen is quickest, ahead of Leclerc, Perez, Sainz, Norris, de Vries, Stroll, Alonso, Albon and Zhou.

Hamilton is eleventh, ahead of Piastri, Bottas, Tsunoda, Hulkenberg, Sargeant, Russell, Ocon, Gasly and Magnussen.

Lots of work and head-scratching over the next couple of hours, not least at Alpine where Gasly's car has been badly damaged following that fire.

Check out our Friday gallery from Baku here.

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