Red Bull’s Max Verstappen topped a tight and unrepresentative first practice at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix ahead of the Ferrari drivers.
Verstappen, leading Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton by four points in the championship, was 0.043 seconds faster than Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Carlos Sainz was third quickest, 0.294secs behind his Ferrari team-mate, ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.
Hamilton was down in seventh place but made a mistake on a faster lap.
And Lando Norris appeared to have the potential to have topped the session, the McLaren driver on a very fast lap before spinning at Turn 16.
At the time, Norris was a second up on team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who had just gone fastest with a lap that left him fifth overall at the end of the session, 0.5secs off Verstappen’s pace-setting time.
Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly was in fifth place, splitting Ricciardo and Hamilton.
Hamilton and Norris were just two of the several drivers who went off on the slippery Baku streets. They were joined by the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, both Gasly and team-mate Yuki Tsunoda and Haas drivers Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin.
Tsunoda’s incident caused a brief comedy moment. Rather than spin-turn the car, the traditional approach to extricating oneself from a Baku escape road, he tried to do a three-point turn.
But an F1 car does not have the steering lock to do that, and the Japanese spent minutes going backwards and forwards while race director Michael Masi deployed caution flags.
It prompted Alpha Tauri’s sporting director to go on the radio and apologise to Masi, saying: “He’s doing an Austin Powers at the moment,” a reference to the famous movie in which actor Mike Myers does a comedy multi-point turn in a buggy in a tight corridor.
The number of incidents made it difficult to get a read of the competitive order.
McLaren did appear to be very competitive – as Verstappen and Sainz had suggested they would be after the last race in Monaco, calling their car a “rocket”. And Hamilton clearly had more pace than the timing sheets suggested.
Behind Hamilton, Norris, Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas completed the top 10.