Gasly tops chaotic FP3 as Verstappen crashes: 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix practice round-up


Pierre Gasly topped final practice for AlphaTauri as Mercedes struggled and Verstappen crashed out

Pierre Gasly, 2021 Azerbaijan GP

Gasly pulled out a brilliant lap to go fastest ahead of qualifying

Clive Rose/Getty Images

Baku brought some of its usual chaos in final practice as Pierre Gasly topped the times while Max Verstappen found the barriers.

Sergio Perez showed Red Bull’s strong pace but was over three tenths down on the best time while Lewis Hamilton showed just how crucial the tow from Turn 16 will be as he slipstreamed his way to an unlikely P3.

Red Bull looks to be the team to beat so far this weekend over a single lap and on long-run pace. Mercedes is struggling to match their title rivals in either category and didn’t make the gains it might have hoped overnight with set-up changes.

Ferrari is amongst it at the front despite the team expecting to take a step back from Monaco last time out but couldn’t string a clear lap together in final practice.

Here is how practice unfolded in Baku ahead of the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.



While teams might have wanted to wait to get out with the surface being very green, the limited session time forced everyone out early to clear up the track in a group operation.

Charles Leclerc set the initial pace in the opening 10 minutes in a Ferrari 1-2. There was a brief virtual safety car while a marshal retrieved a bit of debris on track between Turns Five and Six but it lasted less than a minute.

It did hurt Lewis Hamilton who was on a fast lap when the VSC was deployed. It was a minor inconvenience in the end as he went fastest of all 15mins into the session on a 1min 45.112sec.

He bettered that time on a third run on the soft tyres, clearing his benchmark by 1.2sec to go onto a 1min 43.893sec. His fast lap included a tow in sector three but he was already up by 0.7sec on his previous time without it entering Turn 16.

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Max Verstappen was running medium tyres on his Red Bull in the early stages. He went second fastest to be the only one within a second of Hamilton’s time but was still 0.9sec down.

A personal best first sector and purple middle sector on his subsequent hot lap weren’t enough to put him fastest though. A distant tow from a Haas didn’t make him quickest and he ended up 0.2sec down on the lead Mercedes.

Yuki Tsunoda was the first to find one of the run-off areas, going on at Turn Four. The AlphaTauri driver tagged the outside wall on corner entry, locked up and went deep into the corner. He took an age to get it turned around but rejoined after a lengthy yellow flag to cover the incident.

It wouldn’t be a street circuit without traffic problems and Verstappen caught heavy traffic near the end of the middle sector. He was less than pleased over team radio calling the situation dangerous as Esteban Ocon and George Russell fought over track position heading into Turn 15.

With 25 minutes remaining, the times started to tumble as Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz improved to second, third and fifth respectively before Daniel Ricciardo popped up with the fastest time to take P1 on a 1min 43.732sec.

The Australian was almost a tenth-and-a-half down on Hamilton approaching the final corners but a distant tow from Hamilton himself reversed the deficit to send him 0.16sec clear.

Team-mate Norris suffered a spin coming out of Turn 16 on the following lap in contrasting fortunes for the McLaren duo. He was 0.9sec up on Ricciardo’s time until he got a little greedy on power on corner exit, sending him round. He kept it out of the barriers and pirouetted to rejoin.

20 minutes to go and it was Ferrari’s turn to go top, Leclerc from Sainz as the drivers reached the low 43’s. Hamilton was on another quick lap and set to lower the benchmark once again but locked up going into Turn 15 and went straight on. He reversed back onto track and rejoined.

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Pierre Gasly was the next driver to send it a little too deep into T15. The Frenchman again made it back onto track after an almost identical issue to the Mercedes before him.

Verstappen had switched to soft tyres for the final 15mins and looked to have a nice tow from Nikita Mazepin ahead going into Turn Three but despite a bit of weaving to try and get his attention and let him move clear, the Russian held station until after the corner, forcing the Red Bull man to abort the lap.

He backed off and went again on the subsequent lap to put in a 1min 43.184sec to go 0.043sec clear of the pack in P1, but lost time to Leclerc in the final sector. With a distant tow from his team-mate, Sergio Perez was only able to go P4 0.466sec down despite the helping hand.

Valtteri Bottas was late to turn up in Azerbaijan after getting stuck at an airport in Finland and his anonymous performance in FP1 left him well off the pace in P9.

Nikita Mazepin was the first to find the barriers but lived to tell the tale. The Russian lost the back end of his Haas under acceleration at T16 and went sideways into the TechPro barriers. The cushioned contact was enough to let him crawl back to the pits.

Simultaneously as Mazepin made it into the pit lane, Mick Schumacher brought out the yellows by repeating Tsunoda’s mistake but got it corrected and on track quicker. Bottas and Norris were the next duo to have a mishap, both going deep at Turn Two in the final seconds.

In the end, Verstappen just shaded the Ferrari of Leclerc while Sainz had the measure of Perez and Mercedes looked well off their true potential.



The second session didn’t start much better than the last one ended for Valtteri Bottas and Lando Norris. They were the first drivers to go straight on and into a run-off area at Turns One and 15 respectively. Both recovered to the track but, up ahead, Sebastian Vettel was the latest victim at the Turn 16 exit. He got very sideways in his Aston Martin attempting to open his first flying lap but got things righted quickly after his half spin.

Pierre Gasly was ahead of Max Verstappen for the top spot until Charles Leclerc squeaked his Ferrari ahead by 0.006sec on a 1min 43.210sec. Carlos Sainz managed to better that time on his first flying lap on mediums by 0.048sec.

Nicholas Latifi was the next one to go deep at Turn 15 and manage to make it back on but his engine soon died, leaving the Williams stranded on the racing line. It brought out the red flags with 15 minutes run, up to that point.

The session was soon back underway with 41 minutes remaining and the Ferraris smashed the time to beat by almost a second. Sainz was 0.9sec up with a 1min 42.243sec on soft tyres with Leclerc slotting into P2, two tenths down on his team-mate.

Leclerc was flying once again on his next lap until he hit the barriers at Turn 15. His error was not bailing out of his attempt to make the corner soon enough, as others had done before him. The Monégasque’s impact into the barriers wasn’t too severe and he recovered back to the pits missing his front wing, nosecone relatively intact.

With the Ferrari back in the pits, Red Bull was left to take the top spots and it was Sergio Perez leading Max Verstappen this time. A 1min 42.115sec was good enough to the tune of a tenth over his team-mate.

Lewis Hamilton’s first flying lap was over a second off the pace as Mercedes’ struggles continued into the second session of the day. A flat radio message summed up the mood in the champion’s camp, claiming he didn’t know where the time was that he had to make up and that he wouldn’t be going any faster than P11 on the short runs.

Valtteri Bottas was a further second down on his team-mate, languishing down in 16th. Both reported issues with tyre warm-up, something that appears to be growing into an Achilles heel for the team in 2021.

Mick Schumacher reported another issue for Haas over the radio with just over 15 minutes remaining, returning to the pits with just seven laps completed in FP2.

The long runs were the focus for the rest of the session and it was once again Red Bull-dominated as Perez set a blistering pace on the softs, edging Verstappen by a tenth here and there.

Hamilton was a little closer to the mark than over a single lap, setting a decent pace on the medium compound tyre compared to both Red Bulls. The Ferraris were a step further back than their ultimate pace suggested but had the measure of Valtteri Bottas who was stuck in the high 47s during his run on softs compared to the high 46s of the Red Bulls.



Nikita Mazepin commented that the track had become very dirty overnight. The Haas duo were left to clean up the surface in the opening 10 minutes of the session by themselves as everyone else waited in the garage.

Fernando Alonso was the only other driver to emerge early on before the garages gradually began to empty out.

Valtteri Bottas was eager to get laps on the board after a difficult Friday but went on at Turn Three on his opening flyer. Sergio Perez carried on from where he left off yesterday to go fastest of all in the early phase while Max Verstappen found the Turn Four run-off area. He was able to reverse back out and get back into a rhythm but was some way down on his team-mates time as Red Bull continued set-up work on the hard tyres.

Lewis Hamilton had hoped overnight changes would help him after a tough Friday but he was quickly reporting a lack of front and rear end grip despite a change of rear wing specification for Saturday. Hamilton was P10 after the initial runs with Bottas in 14th, both over a second off the pace.

Carlos Sainz was informed that his lack of rear end grip was down to the track being slower than it had been on the opening day of the weekend. His race engineer reported that it was to the tune of a full second slower with track temperature up into the 50deg C range.

AlphaTauri popped up with a 1-2 after the first 20 minutes, Pierre Gasly leading Yuki Tsunoda albeit both running the soft compound tyres.

Max Verstappen brought out the red flags as he repeated Leclerc’s error from Friday but wasn’t as lucky as the Monégasque. He broke his front suspension hitting the barriers at Turn 15 and couldn’t recover back to the pits.

The Dutchman committed to making the corner but he was on a trip into the walls early in the corner entry phase having locked up the inside front left.

With 25 minutes remaining the session was restarted and there was a queue at the end of pit lane to get back out on track.

Hamilton had a near miss with Lance Stroll at Turn 16 trying to open a fast lap. The Merc took avoiding action but with a clear run, neither he nor Bottas were looking any better pace-wise.

With less than 20 minutes remaining, full qualifying sims started. Leclerc’s opening effort was curtailed as Nicholas Latifi brought out yellow flags at Turn Three after going deep into the run off, forcing the Ferrari to back off.

Sainz’s first attempt was aborted at Turn 15 as he locked up but bailed out of the corner early enough to survive the experience.

Mazepin tagged the wall at Turn 15 and reported damage to his car. The Russian recovered to the pits with a damaged front wing endplate and bargeboard.

With a clear run, Leclerc topped the times with a 1min 42.778sec but that was beaten by Perez by 0.2sec, aided by a distant tow from Alonso.

George Russell brought out a Virtual Safety Car with seven minutes remaining as he reported a loss of power. It hampered many drivers who hadn’t got a clean qualfying simulation in, including the two Mercedes and McLaren drivers.

The VSC was withdrawn with five minutes to go and plenty desperate to get a lap in ahead of qualifying.

Gasly set the timing screens alight to go fastest of all while Hamilton pulled out a time good enough for P3 with a great tow from Perez, 0.4sec down on the AlphaTauri. Conversely, Bottas could only manage P13 on his flying lap and reported that was the best the car was capable of.