Hamilton fastest at Azerbaijan’s F1 debut

Formula One has made its debut in Azerbaijan with some immediate teething problems and Mercedes’s triple world champion Lewis Hamilton fastest in practice around the Baku street circuit.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo brought out the red flags to halt Friday’s first session with 22 minutes remaining after he clouted a barrier, the impact ripping off his Red Bull’s rear right wheel.

Race director Charlie Whiting and officials spent time between sessions fixing kerbs on the anti-clockwise layout that circles the medieval city’s walls and runs along the Caspian sea shore.

Qualifying for the GP2 support series was postponed and Formula One drivers were instructed to steer clear of the kerb at the exit to turn six.

Television footage had shown the edges lifting as cars went over it.

“Some small bolts had come loose at the end of the kerbs on turns six and 12, so we’ve taken the bolts out and welded the kerbs to each other,” Whiting told Sky Sports.

“Everything’s new, they’ve done the best they could and we just needed to do a bit of fixing.”

Hamilton, who had not inspected the track beforehand because he wanted it to be a completely fresh experience in the car, lapped in one minute 46.435 seconds in the first session.

The Briton, winner of the last two races and now only nine points adrift of team mate and championship leader Nico Rosberg after seven of 21 rounds, later improved that to 1:44.223.

Rosberg was second in both sessions, ending the day early after stopping on track following a loss of power with about 20 minutes remaining.

Ricciardo hit the barrier while exiting turn 15. Reports indicate he ran wide, hitting the wall while trying to correct an oversteer.

The accident brought out the red flag with 22 minutes remaining and a crane was needed to get his car off the track.

Ricciardo was 13th fastest in the initial practice standings.

Sunday’s race is billed as the European Grand Prix, a designation previously given to circuits in Germany, Britain and Spain rather than a country at the crossroads of Asia and Europe.

Rosberg was the first to set a timed lap while Mexican Esteban Gutierrez, in a Haas, was first to leave the pit lane and also first to leave the track with a mistake at turn 15.

Expectations of top speeds of around 340kph proved conservative with Finland’s Valtteri Bottas, in a Williams, hitting 351kph early on.

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