Azerbaijan GP: Red Bull and Verstappen superior in FP1

Max Verstappen showed promising pace in the first Free Practice session for this weekend's Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the Baku City Circuit, setting the fastest time, with Daniel Ricciardo completing a superb early afternoon for Red Bull in second.

Sebastian Vettel rounded out the top three for Ferrari, meaning that there was no Mercedes powered car in the top three at a power hungry circuit.

Verstappen's time of a 1:44.410 saw an improvement of over two seconds on last year's fastest FP1 time.

Massa quick early on

The relatively healthy Friday afternoon crowd saw little track action in the first 30 minutes as temperatures rose towards the 30° mark. All drivers opted for installation laps before some returned to the garage for a lengthy period - meaning the first front-runners out for good were Ricciardo and Vettel with 24 minutes gone, whilst Felipe Massa headed the field, utilising the Williams' strong straight-line speed.

Vettel edged closer, managing to get within four tenths of the Brazilian, but Verstappen produced a fine lap on the medium compound tyres to take second from him.

Despite having a problem with his overtake button, Lewis Hamilton showed stellar pace during his first run as the top of the table changed in a blink of an eye. Sergio Perez assumed first with a 1:46.295 - Force India looking good at the top of the speed trap readings - with Hamilton trailing by three-tenths.

However, that all changed on the next lap, Hamilton overcoming his problems to go clear by a whopping seven-tenths, almost a second faster than his time sheet topping FP1 time last year.

More McLaren struggles

Along with Sauber's Pascal Wehrlein, McLaren became the first team to use the softest compound of the weekend - the supersofts. It provided little benefit, both Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso three seconds off the pace, weighed down with the burden otherwise known as the Honda power unit.

Yet on his first attempt on supersofts, Verstappen squeezed Hamilton off the top by eight-hundredths of a second, the Red Bull showing its prowess through the corners, helped by the Dutchman's considerable commitment. Ricciardo followed him, going second - but lying just shy of five-tenths behind. Vettel had recovered to go third on soft tyres despite having several off-track excursions.

Whilst Red Bull were top, Toro Rosso were rooted firmly to the bottom. On another fractured Friday in 2017, both Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz spent most of the afternoon in the garage, only able to venture out and set a time in the last half-hour. Sainz' best time was only good enough for 16th whereas on the other side of the garage, Kvyat managed a credible tenth late on despite the minimal running.

Perez falls foul

That came just before Perez brought out the red flags with just under 20 minutes of the session remaining, wrecking the right hand side of his Force India at the ultra-tight castle section after having several bites of turning into the car, and most likely jeopardizing his running in a few hours' time.

With the session resuming with a mere seven minutes to go, no further action was seen in regards to times at the top, meaning that for the first time since FP3 in Bahrain, Red Bull enjoyed led the way in a Free Practice session.

Pos Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull 1:44.410 - 19
2 Daniel RICCIARDO Red Bull 1:44.880 +0.470 22
3 Sebastian VETTEL Ferrari 1:44.967 +0.557 20
4 Sergio PEREZ Force India 1:45.398 +0.988 16
5 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes 1:45.497 +1.087 16
6 Valtteri BOTTAS Mercedes 1:45.737 +1.327 19
7 Esteban OCON Force India 1:45.752 +1.342 24
8 Felipe MASSA Williams 1:45.968 +1.558 25
9 Kimi RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1:46.000 +1.590 18
10 Daniil KVYAT Toro Rosso 1:46.617 +2.207 11
11 Lance STROLL Williams 1:46.649 +239 28
12 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas 1:46.721 +2.311 23
13 Romain GROSJEAN Haas 1:46.837 +2.427 22
14 Nico HULKENBERG Renault 1:47.217 +2.807 21
15 Stoffel VANDOORNE McLaren 1:47.446 +3.036 22
16 Carlos SAINZ Toro Rosso 1:47.501 +3.091 13
17 Fernando ALONSO McLaren 1:47.551 +3.141 20
18 Jolyon PALMER Renault 1:48.525 +4.115 15
19 Pascal WEHRLEIN Sauber 1:49.048 +4.638 19
20 Marcus ERICSSON Sauber 1:49.937 +5.527 21