Sebastian Vettel has admitted he struggled to get into the groove around the difficult Baku City Circuit after a difficult day of practice at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The Ferrari driver finished 10th and 11th in the first and second practice sessions respectively and appeared to have trouble managing the ultrasoft tire, the softest of Pirelli’s range this weekend.
The German complained early in FP1 that his ultrasoft tires were “toast” after just seven laps, and he locked up and spoiled the first flying lap of his qualifying simulation run in FP2, leaving him down the order in both sessions.
He finished the day 1.332 seconds off the pace set by Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo and 1.263 seconds behind his Ferrari teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, who came home with the second-best time.
“I think I could’ve done better obviously for one lap – that’s what it was,” Vettel explained. “But that’s part of it, and it’s only Friday.”
Vettel conceded he has a lot to learn ahead of Saturday’s final hour of practice.
“I think getting into the rhythm was the key and then understanding what the car needs. We now have a little bit of time to reset and trim the car so hopefully it feels better tomorrow.”
There was reason for optimism, however, with Mercedes experiencing similar difficulties. Whereas Ferrari can at least point to Raikkonen’s time near the top of the time sheet, both Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton languished more than 0.7 seconds off the pace in fourth and fifth.
Moreover, Ferrari’s race pace on the ultrasoft tire appeared a close match for Red Bull Racing after second practice, giving Vettel hope his weekend could yet come good.
“I think around this place it’s a little bit tricky to find a rhythm, it’s not so easy,” he said. “This morning and at the start of the second session I didn’t find it and I wasn’t up to speed, but I was pretty happy with the long run at the end. It was OK.
“I think the car is fine. I didn’t get the laps together and it can happen very easily here with a little mistake in braking.
“I think I struggled a little bit more than the others, but I’m not too worried. Towards the end I had a good read of the situation.
The long run was a lot better and I think we can improve the car tomorrow and we should be OK.”