Perez leads Red Bull 1-2 as Mercedes struggles



The Mercedes drivers – led by Lewis Hamilton in 11th – finished well down the order as the world champion squad’s low-key start to the Baku weekend continued.

The one-hour session was interrupted by a red flag caused by Nicholas Latifi’s Williams losing power towards the end of the opening quarter and by a virtual safety car, which was triggered when Charles Leclerc knocked the front wing off his Ferrari as he hit the barriers during the qualifying simulation section of the session.

In the early laps, where most cars ran on the medium tyres, Sainz established the P1 benchmark at 1m44.072s.

Fernando Alonso, Pierre Gasly and Leclerc all then enjoyed brief spells at the head of the times as the fastest lap was gradually lowered on the yellow-walled rubber.

Sainz then retook the top spot with a 1m43.162s, which occurred just before Latifi’s stoppage caused the session to be halted by seven minutes.

The Williams driver had pulled down the escape road at Turn 15 – the high-speed rapid left that leads the track down the hill towards the start of the third sector and the main straight – where several drivers, including McLaren’s Lando Norris had gone off into the runoff area during the early running.

Latifi’s off happened at slow speed, but after he had reversed back onto the track, he reported his “engine died” and the FW43B ground to a halt, which meant it had to be craned away under the red flags.

The stoppage meant all the cars returned to the track on the softs for the middle phase of the when the session resumed just before the 20-minute mark.

A few minutes later, after a careful preparation lap on the C5 compound, Sainz improved the fastest time to 1m42.243s – a jump of nearly a full second.

Leclerc slotted into second behind his teammate and then on his next flying lap set the then fastest time in the first sector.

But the Monegasque driver could not complete that run after he locked his right-front at high speed approaching the Turn 15 left and he slid straight into the barriers on the outside, with the left-front locking as he approached the wall.

Fortunately for Leclerc, he was able to return to the pits for a nose change, but the incident disrupted the soft-tyre efforts for many drivers running behind him – including Verstappen and Hamilton.

Hamilton’s best flying lap on the softs put him into ninth before he was shuffled down to his final finishing position in the session, with the world champion at one point reporting “I don’t know where all the time is” as Mercedes appeared to be struggling again with tyre warm-up – the issue that has hit the Black Arrows drivers at various points across the opening races in 2021.

Just after Hamilton set his personal best in FP2 – just past the session’s half-way point – Perez completed his second flying lap and found enough time to steal into first with a 1m42.115s, which stood as the best time to the finish.

Verstappen then improved as his soft-tyre run continued, but he ended up 0.101s behind his teammate complaining that he had “no grip” at the front of his RB16B – a development he called a “night and day” difference to how the car was handling in FP1 earlier this Friday afternoon in Baku.

The Red Bull’s improving shuffled the Ferrari’s back to third and fourth, with Gasly – who nearly had a similar incident to Leclerc at Turn 15 but was able to sail down the escape road after locking his right-front on approach – taking fifth and Alonso sixth for AlphaTauri and Alpine respectively.

The field switched to long-run data gathering for the final third of the session, where both Leclerc and Valtteri Bottas, who finished down in 16th in the second Mercedes after the early laps of his soft-tyre run was disrupted by the Ferrari driver’s Turn 15 incident, complained about bad graining on their medium rear tyres.

The top 10 was completed by Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, Norris, Alpine driver Esteban Ocon and Yuki Tsunoda in the second AlphaTauri.

Latifi’s stoppage meant he brought up the rear of the field, with Mick Schumacher only one spot in front of him and on the second-lowest lap count (after Latifi) as he lost time with an engine problem during the middle phase of the session.

 



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