Lewis Hamilton set the pace for Mercedes as Formula 1 enjoyed its first running at the Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan ahead of this weekend’s European Grand Prix.
Baku plays host to its maiden grand prix this weekend, using the fastest street circuit on the calendar while incorporating the modern and historic parts of the city.
Low levels of grip and the narrow nature of the track made the first practice session an exploratory one for the entire grid, given that drivers had only tasted it on the simulator or a video game before the session.
Mercedes predictably went out early in search of fast lap times, with Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg exchanging blows at the head of the field.
Ultimately, it was Hamilton who led come the end of the session, posting a fastest lap time of 1:46.435 to edge out Rosberg by three-tenths of a second.
Hamilton was fortunate to complete the session after scraping the barrier at Turn 3, but was not the only driver to test the limits of the Baku City Circuit.
Sebastian Vettel suffered an early spin, while a number of drivers ran wide at Turn 15 including Esteban Gutierrez, Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr., the latter breaking his nose cone in the process.
Valtteri Bottas kept up Williams’ strong form from Canada by finishing third, six-tenths of a second behind Hamilton at the top of the timesheets.
Fernando Alonso finish fourth for McLaren in FP1, 1.5 seconds behind Hamilton at the top, while Vetel bounced back from his spin to finish fifth for Ferrari.
Force India’s Sergio Perez ended the session sixth ahead of Jenson Button in the second McLaren, who was followed by Felipe Massa and Sainz. Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10.
It proved to be a session to forget for Red Bull as both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen hit trouble, a leak limiting the latter’s running throughout the session.
Although Ricciardo was able to get out, his session came to an early end after he clouted the barrier at Turn 15, damaging the right-hand side of his car and warranting a red flag stoppage.
Second practice in Baku kicks off at 9am ET on NBCSN and Live Extra.