RED Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo continued his impressive start to the Azerbaijan GP weekend by setting the fastest time in Practice Two, though Ferrari also gave a glimpse of their potential in an intriguing session.
After being edged out by Valtteri Bottas earlier in the day, Ricciardo posted a 1:42.795 in P2 – an ultrasoft-tyre marker which, at the time, looked like it would only be challenged by team-mate Max Verstappen with Red Bull enjoying the narrow street circuit.
But while Verstappen finished just a tenth of a second off Ricciardo, it was Kimi Raikkonen who eventually pushed the Australian closest, with the Ferrari driver just 0.069s off the leading benchmark.
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Raikkonen’s encouraging session came despite enduring a disrupted Friday, with little track action in P1, and despite team-mate Sebastian Vettel’s struggles.
The championship leader span three times and failed to hook up a qualifying-style lap on ultrasofts, finishing 11th and more than a second off the pace.
Mercedes also couldn’t get close to battling Ricicardo. The world champions, who have surprisingly not yet won a race yet in 2018, had Bottas some seven tenths adrift in fourth, with Lewis Hamilton just behind.
The longest straight on the F1 calendar was expected to favour Mercedes, as it has done in recent years, but it is the Red Bulls and Raikkonen who have adapted quicker to the cool, windy Baku conditions.
Ricciardo will also be boosted by the fact he was also leading the field on the supersoft tyres, even when much of his rivals were posting their times on the supposedly quicker ultrasofts.
“He is the one to beat at the moment,” noted Sky F1’s Anthony Davidson – who also believes teams will be debating running the supersofts in the second part of qualifying with little difference between the compounds.
There was a glimmer of a breakthrough at McLaren after a below-par start to life with Renault power, with Fernando Alonso sixth and within a second of Ricciardo’s time.
The Woking team have worked hard to find solutions to their straight-line speed deficit, and Alonso out-paced Force India’s Estaban Ocon and Renault’s Carlos Sainz by just over a tenth.
Kevin Magnussen was ninth as Haas returned to form, while Nico Hulkenberg completed the top 10.
Much like the opening session of a much anticipated weekend, many drivers were struggling for grip. On top of Vettel’s three spins, An off-form Stoffel Vandoorne brushed the wall while Lance Stroll reported that his Williams was “undriveable”.
Stroll was 14th at the end of P2, with team-mate Sergey Sirotkin 17th and ahead of Brendon Hartley, Vandoorne and Marcus Ericsson.
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