Verstappen just 0.037s ahead of Leclerc in only Baku F1 practice

Formula 1 championship leader Max Verstappen narrowly topped a close battle between Red Bull and Ferrari in the only practice session for the 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Key moments:

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> Ferrari gets close to outpacing Red Bull

> Mercedes delayed by brake problems

> Red flag after Gasly’s Alpine catches fire

Red Bull unsurprisingly looked in control for much of the session, as the majority of the teams focused on the medium and hard tyres, knowing they only have one hour of practice before getting into the meat of F1’s first sprint event of the season.

Verstappen was two tenths clear of Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin before most drivers switched onto the softest tyre to simulate qualifying runs for this afternoon’s session.

Charles Leclerc had been half a second down on the hard (C3 tyre) in the earlier part of practice, but he vaulted to the top of the timesheet on his final flying lap, only to then be fractionally beaten by Verstappen’s own final effort.

Verstappen ended the session fastest by just 0.037 seconds.

Sergio Perez looked competitive throughout practice, on a track that has given him some of his best results in F1, and he finished only 0.102s off Leclerc’s Ferrari, while Carlos Sainz rounded out the top four – the last of the drivers to lap in under 1m43s.

Lando Norris lapped the upgraded McLaren – featuring a new floor that is designed to provide the team with its new 2023 aerodynamic baseline – fifth-quickest, ahead of Nyck de Vries – who surprisingly made the top six in an AlphaTauri that is running some tweaks to the new floor specification introduced in Melbourne. Yuki Tsunoda was 14th in the sister car, after clouting a wall early on and breaking a wheel.

Lance Stroll was seventh, ahead of Aston Martin team-mate Fernando Alonso, who didn’t run the softest tyre, while Alex Albon’s Williams had briefly topped the session during the late flurry of soft-tyred laps before slipping back to ninth.

Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo rounded out the top 10, just ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the best of the Mercedes.

Hamilton and team-mate George Russell – who was only 17th fastest – both complained of braking issues at the start of the session which forced them back into the garage and delayed their running.

They lost further track time when a hydraulic leak on Pierre Gasly’s Alpine caused his car to catch fire on-track. The fire continued to rage even as marshals applied extinguisher. That, plus Kevin Magnussen’s Haas stopping with a suspected fuel pressure problem at the end of the main straight, caused a red flag and a 13-minute delay in running.

Hamilton refused to pit for soft tyres after the session resumed, so set his best time on the medium compound.

Both Alpines had lapped inside the top 10 before Gasly’s car caught fire. Team-mate Esteban Ocon did not resume running after the stoppage, so the Alpines – also running a revised floor spec this weekend that the team has high hopes for – ended the session down in 18th and 19th.

Practice 1 Results

PosNameCarBest TimeGap Leader
1Max VerstappenRed Bull1m42.315s
2Charles LeclercFerrari1m42.352s+0.037s
3Sergio PérezRed Bull1m42.454s+0.139s
4Carlos SainzFerrari1m42.899s+0.584s
5Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1m43.125s+0.81s
6Nyck de VriesAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1m43.414s+1.099s
7Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1m43.455s+1.14s
8Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1m43.56s+1.245s
9Alex AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1m43.628s+1.313s
10Guanyu ZhouAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1m43.748s+1.433s
11Lewis HamiltonMercedes1m43.798s+1.483s
12Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes1m43.98s+1.665s
13Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1m44.01s+1.695s
14Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1m44.137s+1.822s
15Nico HülkenbergHaas-Ferrari1m44.323s+2.008s
16Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes1m44.9s+2.585s
17George RussellMercedes1m45.082s+2.767s
18Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1m45.955s+3.64s
19Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault1m46.321s+4.006s
20Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1m47.498s+5.183s

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