Ferrari stamped their early authority on the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend in Free Practice 2 in Baku, with Charles Leclerc heading team mate Sebastian Vettel by 0.324s, but nearly seven-tenths clear of the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton in third.
With a loose drain cover having limited running in FP1 to just 12 minutes, when the teams made it out on track in FP2 to set their first competitive laps of the day, it was the Ferrari duo of Leclerc and Vettel who appeared to have things all their own way as Leclerc set a 1m 42.872s.
That was 0.669s faster than Hamilton could manage, while the Red Bull of Max Verstappen ended up fourth, a further three-tenths back but ahead of the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas in fifth.
With just 15 minutes of the session gone, Racing Point’s Lance Stroll brought out Friday’s second red flag, as he locked up going into Turn 2 but left it too late to dive down the slip road, ripping the front left corner off his RP19 as he slid along the barriers. Racing Point were able to carry out repairs to the car in time to get him back out in the last five minutes of the session, the 2017 Baku podium finisher ending up down in P18.
Red Bull Racing
The third red flag of Friday, meanwhile, was flown for birthday boy Daniil Kvyat, who got it wrong at the exit of Turn 7 and destroyed his Toro Rosso's front-left suspension. Having suffered issues with his power steering earlier on in the session, Kvyat at least used his mere nine laps to good effect, finishing a strong P6 – with the Russian, the McLaren of Carlos Sainz in seventh, the second Toro Rosso of Alexander Albon in eighth and the second Red Bull of Pierre Gasly in P9 all separated by a just 0.063s.
There was plenty more drama elsewhere, too, with over half the field overshooting corners throughout the session as the dusty Baku City Circuit track rubbered in. Lewis Hamilton, Romain Grosjean, Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel – to name a few – all had moments, while a big lock-up for Daniel Ricciardo going into Turn 15 caused the Renault driver’s brakes to catch fire. The resulting flat spot on the Australian’s tyres, meanwhile, meant that Ricciardo was unable to head back out on track, costing him the last 40 minutes of running.
It capped off a disappointing session for Renault, with Ricciardo and Hulkenberg winding up P15 and P17 respectively – especially frustrating for the works team given that McLaren used the French manufacturer’s power units to secure a fine P7 and P10 for Sainz and Lando Norris.
Robert Kubica was the sole Williams representative of the session, with George Russell having run over a loose drain cover in FP1. The damage from the incident forced Williams to build up a new chassis for the Briton, meaning he won’t reappear until FP3. Kubica finished the session in P19, 5.239s off the ultimate pace.
So, a good start for Ferrari in Baku – but can their rivals get back on terms with the Scuderia in time for qualifying on Saturday afternoon?
FP2 HIGHLIGHTS: 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix