Daniel Ricciardo put Red Bull Racing atop the Friday free practice timesheet in Azerbaijan, pipping Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen by less than a tenth of a second. The Australian captured the fastest lap just 15 minutes into the session with the supersoft tire and remained in control through the qualifying simulation runs on ultrasoft rubber.
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas was the first to convert to the ultrasoft tire at the 30-minute mark, but it wasn’t until his second hot lap that he closed to within less than half a second, shrinking the gap to just 0.058 seconds. Ricciardo put himself back out of reach on his own ultrasoft qualifying simulation lap, stretching the margin out to more than 0.7s.
The Red Bull Racing driver continued to push with his purple-banded rubber, constantly eking out extra time – contrary to expectations after first practice that suggested the ultrasoft compound would have a limited lifespan. Ricciardo ended the day with a best time of 1m42.795s.
Raikkonen was second quickest, just 0.069s off the pace, but the Finn had the benefit of picking up a tow behind Lewis Hamilton down the long Baku straight, shaving time from his car’s potential and distorting the result.
Max Verstappen was third quickest in the second Red Bull Racing machine despite missing the first 20 minutes of the session while his team finished repairs to his car after a crash during first free practice.
Verstappen’s day ended on a potentially sour note, however, with what sounded like a power unit problem forcing him to limp back to the pits as the checkered flag fell. The Dutchman had made hay while the sun shined and his engine was running, however, with a lively and at times ragged qualifying simulation run putting him within just 0.116s of his teammate’s best time.
He wasn’t the only one driving on the edge, with run-off areas claiming scalps up and down the grid as drivers struggled with track temperatures 50°F cooler than they were in the earlier session, locking up flirting with disaster.
With Sebastian Vettel excluding himself from setting a competitive time thanks to a lock-up on his first flying lap on the ultrasoft tire, Mercedes drivers Bottas and Hamilton were unhindered in fourth and fifth, but both were surprisingly off Ricciardo’s headline pace.
Bottas was 0.775 second slower than the leader, and the negligible 0.033s gap back to Hamilton suggested there was little left on the table by either driver.
Fernando Alonso was an impressive sixth quickest and just a tenth of a second behind the Mercedes duo despite being among the slowest drivers in the speed trap. His teammate, Stoffel Vandoorne fared far worse, finished second slowest ahead of only Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who retired after two laps with a suspected gearbox problem.
Force India continued its strong morning pace, with Esteban Ocon finishing practice with the seventh-best time.
Rounding out the top 10 behind him were Renault’s Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg in eighth and 10th, with Haas’s Kevin Magnussen sandwiched between the pair in ninth.