The F1 Azerbaijan GP Friday running had Red Bull and Ferrari lead the way, with Mercedes a bit behind, while the midfield fight seems to be getting tougher.

Red Bull ruled in F1 Azerbaijan GP on Friday, with Max Verstappen topping FP1 and Sergio Perez in FP2, while rivals Mercedes were far up behind, even ending up outside the Top 10 in the second session. Ferrari, meanwhile, were up there with the Red Bull cars.

Before dwelling into Mercedes’ troubles, Red Bull enjoyed a fruitful Friday. Both Verstappen and Perez felt solid at the top, even from race pace point of view. It was usual from the Dutchman’s side, but the Mexican was happy after one-lap troubles in Monaco.

“I’m happy and I think we’ve definitely made some good progress,” said Perez. “We did a very good analysis after Monaco and it felt like I am understanding the car more and how I need to drive it. I think this is probably the best Friday of the season for me, it’s the most complete in terms of data and how comfortable I feel with the car.”

On Ferrari side, both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were surprised by the pace shown by them. They did not anticipate themselves to be quick out of blocks, but managed it well. The Monegasque had the barrier moment, but shrugged it off.

They are not getting too excited, but feel that they have more at hand. “It was definitely a better day than we expected, but it’s only the first day of practice,” said Leclerc. “The pace looked promising, and we will keep working overnight to be as competitive. I felt quite comfortable in the car, especially in terms of braking, maybe even too comfortable, pushing a bit too much into Turn 15.

“Our main competitors are quick, even though they haven’t shown it yet. We have to make sure we do everything perfectly,” he summed up as his Ferrari F1 teammate, Sainz, echoed the Monegasque’s sentiments. “We were a bit quicker than we had expected,” he said. “However, the time sheets can be misleading, with cars getting tows on the straights – myself included – and others not finishing flying laps for various reasons.”

Behind Red Bull and Ferrari, it was certainly a mixed pack, with the likes of Mercedes, AlphaTauri, McLaren, Alpine and Alfa Romeo, all not too far off from each other. Although, the times from the reigning F1 champions were not great, but it doesn’t seem like they are so far off and should be closer to the Top 2 and ahead of the rest of the pack.

Both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, were not angry after the session, but rather calm about the situation. Although, they, admitted that they were just not quick enough and both of them struggled with tyre warm-up and lack of grip, which hurt their lap times.

While Hamilton didn’t elaborate much, other than, stating that the car was not fast. Bottas, meanwhile, did note that something is fundamentally wrong. “It was tougher, yes,” he said. “Monaco wasn’t easy, but, at least we were more or less there by the time of qualifying and now we seem quite a bit off.

“So it’s been, definitely, a more challenging day than we anticipated and we need to find out exactly why. Honestly, the main thing is the lack of grip and for that there can be many reasons. So at the moment, I don’t know. Not an easy day. And a lot of work to do. It feels like it’s just overall grip, the balance is not that far off.

“Okay, the car is maybe a bit unpredictable, but it just feels like it’s lacking grip and sliding around. So I think there’s something fundamentally wrong and we need to figure out what,” summed up Bottas, as Mercedes F1 chief, Toto Wolff, is already bracing for a bad qualifying, something similar to Singapore 2015.

“You can clear see from the lap times there’s something fundamentally wrong,” said Wolff. “We are trying to tune the car so it actually functions but we haven’t been able to do that. We continue to see the issues that we have a strong race car but we are struggling to really nail it for a single lap.

“It was a day of data collection and analysis and definitely what we’ve seen in Monaco is a little bit of a prolongation into Baku that there are certain parts of the track where we simply don’t perform. Racing is done on Sunday but I think qualifying can be a very, very difficult session for us.

“Probably one of the most difficult I’ve ever seen. It reminds me of Singapore 2015. But we’ll take it on the chin. I believe we have a good race car so there is ground to recover on Sunday and then learn. It is what it is. We’re trying to go as fast as possible with the kit that is available,” summed up Wolff.

Moving on to AlphaTauri, Pierre Gasly once again showed good pace on Friday. Even though he had some offs, lesser than teammate Yuki Tsunoda, both felt good with the car and posted competitive laptimes. It is another new track for the Japanese F1 driver.

For qualifying and race, Gasly, vows to be aggressive enough to push through. “From the first laps I felt good, pushed a bit the limits, went a bit over the limits a couple of times, but that’s how we get the maximum out of the car,” he said. “I don’t want to be cautious; we want to be aggressive and try to squeeze everything out of the car.”

While AlphaTauri showed some promise, McLaren were left a bit behind in the pack, especially against their direct F1 2021 rivals, Ferrari. Both Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo noted that they felt better in FP1 than FP2, but still they think, they are amid the AlphaTauri and Alpine mix, rather than fighting the likes of Ferrari and or Red Bull.

“I think it looks very close between us, AlphaTauri, Alpines and so on,” said Norris. “Ferrari and Red Bull look quite a long way ahead of us, so it’s going to be tough. Just getting into Q3’s going to be the main target and see what we can do from there. I think we’re looking alright. We were definitely a bit more competitive in FP1 than FP2, so I don’t know if it’s because of the temperatures or the track conditions that we suffered a little bit more in P2.

“But things are good. I think the car feels pretty good. I’m quite confident in the car, just some things to improve. We’re there or thereabouts but not quite where we want to be,” summed up Norris, whereas teammate Ricciardo noted that the work he did in the simulator after Monaco is showing some results and that he felt a bit better in Baku.

For Alpine, meanwhile, it was back in the Top 10 after a troubled Monaco. Both Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, felt it was a solid Friday outing. The Spaniard noted that they came with some uncertainties, but so far, it has been a good run and that the aim is certainly to end up in Q3 and not be left behind in the fight.

“We came here with some uncertainties after Monaco,” said Alonso. “We struggled there and it was another street circuit, so we had to check if we were in for a competitive weekend or not. It seems we are OK. It seems that the car is working well, so we are reasonably happy with that. But as I said, you always want to find-tune the car and the balance and you think you can do quicker in the next day. I think it’s going to be the same for everybody, but we will try to do our job.”

There could be some challenge from the likes of Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin too for the Top 10, especially from the former, where Antonio Giovinazzi looked confident again. The Italian managed the seventh fastest time in FP2, while Kimi Raikkonen was just outside the Top 10 in both the sessions.

Just behind them were the Aston Martin duo, who felt there is more pace in their F1 car than the times suggested. Both Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll reckoned that they couldn’t show their pace over one lap for various reasons and that there is more to come, which will put them also in contention for a Top 10 result.

At the back, it was Williams and Haas, with the former not having a great run. George Russell admitted it was tougher than expected but he hopes some changes can help them on Saturday. For Nicholas Latifi, the FP2 laps miss, puts him back, as after an off at Turn 15, the engine shut itself off due to overheating.

For Haas, it was another learning day, where Nikita Mazepin continued to feel better from his Monaco stint. The Russian is feeling a bit more confident, as he get to grips with the F1 car. His teammate Mick Schumacher had some technical issues and is set to move back to the old power unit, after Ferrari provided a new for this weekend.

Here’s F1 Azerbaijan GP FP1 panned out

Here’s F1 Azerbaijan GP FP2 panned out