The fourth round of the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship began with practice Friday at Baku City Circuit as teams prepared for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix Sunday. Two 90-minute sessions – FP1 and FP2 – on the 6.003 kilometer (3.730-mile), 20-turn track were run under disparate conditions, with FP1 taking place amid sunshine while clouds moved in for FP2.
Grip was at a premium throughout FP1, with difficult track conditions conspiring to leave Haas F1 Team drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen 14th and 18th, respectively, at the end of the session. Magnussen was the first Haas F1 Team driver out in FP1, followed shortly by Grosjean. Each driver was on the same program –an installation lap on Pirelli P Zero Red supersoft tires followed by a baseline stint on those same supersofts before switching to Purple ultrasoft tires. With ultrasofts outfitted on the Haas VF-18s, Grosjean and Magnussen each made two separate runs, both of which came on the same set of tires. Grosjean logged 23 laps in FP1 with his best time coming on his final lap – a 1:46.856 that placed him 14th among the 20-strongfield. Magnussen recorded 18 laps, with his best time being a 1:47.434 earned on his ninth lap that put him 18th overall. Both drivers earned their quick times shod on ultrasofts.
Lap times dropped in FP2 as Haas F1 Team made incremental progress on an evolving racetrack with more rubber being laid down amid slightly cooler conditions. Grosjean continued to fight instability in his racecar while Magnussen sought overall improvement. Magnussen wrapped FP2 as the ninth-quickest driver with a time of 1:43.977, which was 3.457 seconds better than his best lap in FP1. His quick time came on the 13th of his 29 laps riding on a set of ultrasoft tires. Grosjean shaved 2.431 seconds off his FP1 time with a lap of 1:44.425 to earn the 13th-fastest mark. His fast lap came on his 12th tour, also while utilizing ultrasofts. He
completed 27 laps.
Romain Grosjean: “It was a pretty good day. We’ve learned quite a bit. It’s been interesting to find out the right aero level, and finding the right top speed against the others. There are a few things we can do to get better. It seems that a small thing here can make a big difference on the time sheets. I’m confident we’re going to get on top of it for tomorrow. I feel good in the car – there are just a few things we need to adapt, and tomorrow should be a better day in terms of lap times. The feeling is good.”
Kevin Magnussen: ““It’s been an interesting day. There was a big difference in car behavior between FP1 and FP2. We made a good step between the two sessions. I was much happier with the car in FP2. Hopefully, we can carry that into tomorrow. It looks like it’s going to be a lot windier on Saturday, so once again the track’s going to change. We’ll try and hit the target and adapt to that if those are the conditions.”
Alfa Romeo Sauber F1:
It was an overall productive day of free practices for the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team in Baku. Both drivers put in a decent performance during the first practice session. During FP2, Charles Leclerc practiced his short-runs in preparation for tomorrow’s qualifying. Marcus Ericsson completed a good first run on soft tyres before having to end his session early due to an issue with his car’s transmission. With a forecast change in weather and the temperatures getting colder, tomorrow’s qualifying ahead of the 2018 FIA Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix has the potential to be an interesting one – especially in terms of tyre management. The two drivers are confident and look forward to continuing on a positive path for the rest of the weekend.
Marcus Ericsson: “It was not the best Friday for me. FP1 was good, but then in FP2 we had to cut the session short due to a problem we had on the car. Unfortunately, I was only able to complete a few laps during my first run. It is a bit disappointing because it looks like there is good potential there for us. On the positive side, we were in the mix with the midfield during FP1. We should be able to bounce back tomorrow and have a stronger day.”
Charles Leclerc: “It was an ok day overall. We had two quite positive sessions. Our race pace looks good, and we still have a bit of work to do in preparation for tomorrow’s qualifying. It is generally an interesting track in terms of tyre management. Given the possibility of a change in weather for the next two days it may become even more interesting. I look forward to being back in the car.”
On a track which sees constant improvement as the asphalt cleans up and more rubber is laid down, Kimi Raikkonen made the best of the set-up improvements established in the first session to go second fastest in Practice 2. Team-mate Sebastian Vettel never managed a fast lap run (both using Ultrasofts) and subsequently focused on long runs for the remainder of the late afternoon session.
“It was an ok day”, said Kimi. “It was not very easy to start with, so during the first practice we decided to switch to a different set up. Unfortunately these kind of changes take quite a long time, but I’d rather skip or lose some track time in the first session and be ready in the second one. All in all, it was the right decision and our P2 was pretty decent. This is a street circuit but not a traditional one. The grip was really limited, especially since low downforce settings are used here. For sure there are things to improve as always, but we were not far from the top today. I think the long run was ok, the race pace looks good. Now we have to analyze all the data and see what we can do for tomorrow”.
“I think that in this place it is quite tricky to find the rhythm and in the first session I didn’t,” Seb commented. “At the beginning of the second one I lacked pace and could not put the lap together, but that can happen very easily here. I made some mistakes under braking, but I think that the long run was a little better. I think we can improve the car for tomorrow and it should be ok. It’s just the beginning after all. We have to understand what the car needs and we have a little bit of time to reset. Hopefully, it can be better tomorrow”.