Sergio Perez fastest in practice for Azerbaijan GP; Lewis Hamilton 11th as Mercedes slow

F1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan - Practice
Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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BAKU, Azerbaijan — Red Bull dominated both practice sessions for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix with Sergio Perez setting the fastest time Friday, and title rival Mercedes far off the pace.

Perez set a time of 1 minute, 42.115 seconds in second practice to lead teammate Max Verstappen by 0.101 seconds. Verstappen had been fastest in the first session.

Mercedes could manage only 11th for defending champion Lewis Hamilton in the second practice — more than a second off the pace — and 16th for Valtteri Bottas.

In the first session, Hamilton was seventh and Valtteri Bottas 10th.

Verstappen heads into the weekend as championship leader for the first time after winning the Monaco Grand Prix.

Red Bull’s speed could add to a dispute with Mercedes about what Hamilton has called “bendy” rear wings on the cars. The wings are believed to flex into a flatter profile at high speed, potentially reducing drag and increasing pace on the long straight at the Baku street circuit.

New tests for the wings have been announced by governing body FIA but take effect only for the next race in France.

Friday was also a triumph for Ferrari, which was the only team with comparable pace to Red Bull.

Carlos Sainz was third, 0.128 seconds slower than Perez, and Charles Leclerc was fourth after losing his front wing when he locked up a wheel and slid into the barrier.

Ferrari had good pace on another street circuit in Monaco as Leclerc took pole but then couldn’t start the race because of car damage. Leclerc had predicted the long straight in Azerbaijan would work against his team though.

Running time in the second session was limited and fragmented because of Leclerc’s issues and a red flag when Nicholas Latifi came to a halt in his Williams with engine trouble.

NEOM McLaren Formula E announces Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast for 2023 season

McLaren Formula E Hughes
McLaren Racing
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Doubling down on their commitment to electric auto sports, McLaren Racing announced Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast to compete in the 2023 Formula E Series (FE), which completes their driver lineup.

The NEOM McLaren FE team was formed by the acquisition of the Mercedes-EQ Formula E team that won the 2021 and 2022 championships with Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries behind the wheel.

“Today’s announcement feels like a long time coming,” said Ian James, managing director of NEOM McLaren Electric Racing in a release. “Since May this year, when we first announced McLaren Racing’s entry into Formula E, we have been working tirelessly to get in place the best possible team and structure for sustainable success.

“On the one hand, we have been working on the retention of the amazing talent that already was in place before going into the transitional phase. I’m proud to say I think we’ve done a great job on that front.

“On the other hand, we have been focusing on putting in place new processes and new talent – and the latter includes the drivers.”

The driver lineup clasps the two hands together.

Hughes brings 10 years racing experience in single seater cars, including a role with the acquired Mercedes-EQ team as a reserve and development driver for the past two seasons. He is the 2013 BRDC Formula 4 champion and has multiple wins in Formula 2, including two in 2020.

Announced in August, Rast joins the team after earning two podium finishes and six top-fives in 22 career Formula E starts for Audi Sport ABT before returning to the DTM Series last year. Rast’s best finish in Formula E came in the Puebla E Prix when he finished second to teammate Lucas di Grassi by less than a half second.

McLaren’s commitment to Formula E comes one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour in the driver lineup. After a modest start to the season, the McLaren XE drivers crossed the finish line first in Round 4 in Chile, but were assessed a time penalty that dropped them to fifth. Last week in the season finale in Uruguay, they held onto a hard-earned second place finish.