Max Verstappen retained the top spot in Friday evening’s second practice for the 2017 Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, despite crashing in the closing minute of the session. Just a quarter of second covered the top five drivers. Second fastest was Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, followed by Verstappen’s Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo and the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.
Grip levels remained low around the Baku City Circuit, with numerous off-track excursions. The worst was for Jolyon Palmer, who put his Renault into the wall at Turn 8 in a near repeat of Sergio Perez’s FP1 accident. Verstappen then went side on into the Turn 1 barriers within sight of the chequered flag, sustaining rear-end damage to his car.
Perez recovered to finish seventh in FP2 in his repaired Force India, behind Lance Stroll, the Canadian rookie turning in an excellent performance for sixth. Then came Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, Force India’s Esteban Ocon - and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton stranded in 10th.
But it was a session remarkable for incident, that could be summarised in three words: Yellow and red. Flags, that is.
After Palmer and Haas’s Kevin Magnussen had set the early pace, Kvyat posted 1m 46.868s and was in turn ousted by Vettel on 1m 46.089s, before Verstappen upped the ante with 1m 45.084s and remained in control. All of them ran the soft Pirelli tyres.
Right from the start, though, the session began as it would continue, with car after car going off. Few made contact with the barriers, but Palmer did the job properly and semi-detached his Renault’s right front wheel in Perez’s favourite corner. Out came the red flag for nine minutes while the yellow car was removed.
Somehow in amongst the drama Vettel and Raikkonen were able to use their supersofts to go fastest with 1m 43.489s and 1m 43.615s before Verstappen used the same rubber to get back on top with 1m 43.362s. Just before Alonso seemingly lost yet another Honda engine (and nearly his McLaren as it started to roll away from the marshals), Bottas managed to get up there too, taking second with 1m 43.462s, while Stroll jumped to fifth with 1m 44.114s and then improved that, to 1m 44.113s.
In a fitting end to an extraordinary session – in which Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Stroll, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, Magnussen and Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein were the only drivers not to err - Verstappen understeered wide under braking in Turn 1, tried to bail out by looping clockwise into the escape road, and smacked the rear end of his Red Bull into the outer wall.
He nevertheless retained P1, as Red Bull finished a Grand Prix Friday having topped both sessions for the first time since India 2013.