Mercedes team fastest on opening day of F1 in Baku
By Amina Nazarli
Baku, a unique blend of Eastern and Western cultures and traditions, has left behind the first day of the 8th round of the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe.
Eleven teams, with two drivers in each, burned rubber in the second longest F1 track, with a length slightly over six kilometers around the stunning downtown area of Baku.
Along with Monaco and Singapore, Baku is the third street circuit on the calendar, incorporating its UNESCO-protected old city – Icheri Sheher historical-architectural reserve – as well as its modern skyline and beautiful Caspian Sea promenade.
First day saw two Rounds of GP2 series and 2 Practice Sessions of Formula. The 45-minute GP2 practice was the very first session on the new track.
GP2 Series leader Norman Nato had the perfect start to his race weekend today as he topped the timesheet in the free practice session at the Baku city circuit in a 1:55.394 ahead of rookie Antonio Giovinazzi and Sergey Sirotkin.
Rookie Antonio Giovinazzi has adapted quickly to the Baku City Circuit: P2 in the free practice session this morning, he emerged on top in a dramatic qualifying session this afternoon. The Italian set a blazing laptime of 1:51.752 denying Nobuharu Matsushita by 0.08s in the dying minutes. Sergey Sirotkin took P3.
F1 First Practice Session saw exciting race, as Lewis Hamilton bested Rosberg by three-tenths of a second, with Bottas another three-tenths back. After 23 turns of the practice session the world champion Hamilton topped the Formula 1 standings with his time of 1:46.435.
No one could get within half a second of Lewis Hamilton around the spectacular Baku City Circuit in Friday afternoon’s second practice, as well. He delivered the best time of 1:44:223. Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg came closest, 0.690s down on the world champion, though the German’s session came to a premature end thanks to technical issues.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo provided the most spectacular incident of the day when he crashed at Turn 15 in the opening session, which was red-flagged to clear the track.
His Red Bull was repaired and he rejoined in the second practice.
Force India’s Sergio Perez claimed ‘best of the rest’ honors in third, a further four-tenths adrift, and with Valtteri Bottas next up for Williams, followed by the second Force India of Nico Hulkenberg, it was five Mercedes-engined cars in the top five.
The Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz took sixth, with the (TAG Heuer-badged) Renault-engined Red Bull of Max Verstappen in seventh. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, McLaren-Honda’s Jenson Button and the sister Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo completed the top ten.
Overall, the pilots and fans were satisfied with the challenges of Baku track.
Hamilton of the Mercedes team admitted it was a good day for him and a nice way to start the weekend.
“The track isn’t easy – not because the layout is particularly difficult to learn but because it’s very slippery out there. It’s quite Monaco-esque in terms of braking and how close the barriers are – but you’re arriving at much higher speeds. Otherwise it’s like a mixture of Valencia and Sochi with the smooth track surface and the style of the corners themselves. It’s a real challenge and I think it’s going to be tough for everyone over the weekend. It takes a lot of focus, which is something I like. I’ve enjoyed driving here today,” he said
“The track is pretty cool. There are just some safety concerns at a few places like the pit entry, which we have to look into,” said Nico Rosberg.
Carlos Sainz of the Toro Rosso team noted the track was a new challenge for all, as it was pilots first time driving at this track.
“It’s a high-speed circuit with very close walls and tight run-off areas, which requires maximum precision and concentration. The long straights here in Baku also make you run low downforce at a street circuit, which is something new in Formula One. So, it was an interesting day,” he emphasized.
The fan from the U.S. Tad Loeffler stressed the circuit is much better compared to the majority of other Formula 1 city tracks.
“Usually, city tracks are very narrow and the speed at the races on those tracks is quite low, said the tourist. This is while the major part of the Baku circuit is quite wide and some of its sections allow driving at a very high speed. But there is also quite a narrow and dangerous section running along the city walls,” he said.
GP2 first race, Formula 1 third practice session and Formula 1 qualifying will be held on the second day of the races on June 18, while the GP2 second race and 2016 Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe will be held on the last day of the races, June 19.
Amina Nazarli is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @amina_nazarli
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