Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen led the way in second practice for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on an afternoon neither Mercedes finished inside the top 10.
Perez topped teammate Verstappen by just 0.101s to complete a Red Bull Racing Friday practice sweep, while Lewis Hamilton was just 11th and 1.041s off the pace.
“I don’t really know where all the time is,” lamented the Briton after his flying lap, though tire temperature management appeared to be a problem, as it had been in Monaco. His teammate, Valtteri Bottas, fared even worse, stuck in 16th and a further second adrift.
Mercedes looked more competitive during its race simulations, although the German marque focused on the medium tire while Red Bull stuck largely with softs. Hamilton was lapping around half a second slower than Verstappen notwithstanding the slower compound, suggesting a tighter Sunday fight.
In Mercedes’s place near the head of the field finished Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, just 0.027s slower than Verstappen, and Charles Leclerc, 0.2s behind his teammate despite smashing his front wing in a head-first collision with the barriers at Turn 15. The Monegasque locked up on entry before careening in the wall, but the damage proved only superficial and he was able to continue with a new nose cone.
It was an unexpectedly strong performance for Ferrari at a circuit that for two of three sectors shouldn’t suit its car, although Leclerc complained later that his medium tires appeared to expire after only six laps, contrasting race pace sharply with single-lap performance.
Pierre Gasly impressed again with fifth for AlphaTauri ahead of Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi.
McLaren — thought before the weekend to be a dark horse around the rapid Baku streets — could manage only eighth best in the hands of Lando Norris, 0.9s off Perez’s pace. His teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, was 0.2 further back in 13th. Between them squeezed Esteban Ocon, Yuki Tsunoda, Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen.
Aston Martin teammates Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel were 14th and 15th respectively ahead of Bottas and Williams driver George Russell.
Nikita Mazepin followed in 18th ahead of Haas teammate Mick Schumacher, who set only four laps in the first half-hour owing to an oil pressure problem. He rejoined the session with less than 30 minutes remaining but could set only four more laps before a technical problem forced him back to the pits for good.
Nicholas Latifi finished last with only five laps to his name after triggering the only red flag of the day. The Williams suffered a power unit problem in his brand-new Mercedes engine entering Turn 15, and though he safely took to the run-off area and rejoined the track, he’d lost drive and was forced to park his car.
The session was suspended for just over five minutes at the quarter-hour mark to recover the stricken car, which couldn’t be repaired in the hour.