The only practice session at Baku this weekend proved to be intense, with teams looking to optimise their time on track. Despite this, there were several issues across the field – though the problems were most prominently at the Alpine garage.
Yuki Tsunoda was the first driver to encounter major difficulties, making contact with the wall and suffering a rear puncture – costing him precious time on track.
Mercedes also had a sub-optimal session, with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell both reporting brake issues. Luckily for the Silver Arrows, they were still able to collect important data ahead of qualifying.
The same cannot be said for Alpine, whose start to the weekend in Baku has been disastrous.
Pierre Gasly was forced to stop his A523 in sector 2 and retire from the session after a fire started to spread from the back of the car.
— BWT Alpine F1 Team (@AlpineF1Team) April 28, 2023
Teammate Esteban Ocon did not spend much time on track either, with Alpine opting to take precautionary checks to better understand their early reliability woes.
With only a 150-minute gap between Practice 1 and Friday qualifying (even less for Gasly’s car, which was only returned to his garage after the session), the French outfit is in a race against time.
Elsewhere on the grid, teams were eager to test their different configurations and update packages – although this weekend’s format has put many off from introducing significant upgrades.
The timing sheets were relatively consistent with the first three rounds, with Max Verstappen going fastest for Red Bull in his RB19.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was Charles Leclerc, who went second fastest for Ferrari and finished only 0.037 behind his Dutch rival.
Limited practice time will make it difficult for teams to extract the optimum performance from their cars, so surprises to the order are certainly possible.
Whilst it will be difficult to assess whether limited practice time or genuine performance plays a bigger role this weekend, Ferrari can still take some encouragement from practice 1.
Nyck de Vries was also impressive, setting the 6th fastest time in one of his better sessions since joining F1.
In any case, with qualifying only a few hours away, the pressure will only increase as teams and drivers analyse the limited data available to them.