Baku, FP: De Vries leads the way in Azerbaijan
Dutchman on top in free practice
Nyck De Vries has claimed the top spot in a busy free practice session this morning at the Baku City Circuit, grabbing P1 late in the session and holding on despite the best efforts of his rivals to depose him over the closing minutes to lead the way by a tenth from Jordan King and Luca Ghiotto.
In a session slowed by three VSCs and a red flag the McLaren development driver stopped the clock at 1:54.187 with just 4 minutes remaining: the final minutes flew past in a blur as everyone made their best efforts to make up for lost time, but the Dutchman held onto the top spot as the chequered flag emerged.
The session opened under hot and sunny conditions, and with track temperatures of 45˚ the action was soon just as scorching. Artem Markelov set the first competitive time, with De Vries pushing a little too hard and needing to use the run off at turn 3 before heading on his way once again. Nobuharu Matsushita and Ghiotto soon took over on top, but when Nabil Jeffri tagged the barriers at the tight turn 8 before coasting to a halt the first VSC period opened to remove his stricken vehicle.
The session went live at the 15 minute mark, but unfortunately for super sub Sergey Sirotkin, in for the weekend at ART, his car rolled to a halt at the start of the long front straight, prompting another VSC and then a red flag as the marshals brought a truck around to remove car #8: with nowhere to take the stricken vehicle they were forced to carry it the full length of the straight, eating into the teams’ valuable track time.
The track finally reopened on 30 minutes, with everyone looking to reclaim lost time. Oliver Rowland, who was running last on the timesheets, pushed hard to grab a time: the title contender went P4 but lost the rear at turn one and spun into the barriers, stopping his session and slowing everyone else’s as the VSC signs re-emerged while the marshals removed the DAMS car.
With 5 minutes remaining the track went live once more, with De Vries immediately on the pace: the Dutchman went purple for all 3 sectors to easily claim the top spot, and he waited to see what his rivals could do. King went P2 on the same lap with Ralph Boschung in P3, then on the next lap MP teammate’s King and Sergio Sette Camara went faster to grab P2 and 3, Markelov ran wide at turn one while teammate Ghiotto improved to 3rd, while Antonio Fuoco ran wide before the final straight and just missed a top 3 finish.
Behind that top three Sette Camara, Fuoco, Boschung, Charles Leclerc, Nicholas Latifi, Norman Nato and Markelov will all expect better things from this afternoon’s qualifying session, as will Sirotkin (P14) and Rowland (P15) given their truncated track time: with a free practice this exciting, this afternoon’s qualifying promises to be electric.