European GP P2: Lewis Hamilton fastest as F1 debuts in Baku

Baku, June 17, AZERTAC

Lewis Hamilton set a searing pace on F1's first day in Baku as the world champion topped the Friday practice timesheets by over half a second.

While both Ferrari and Red Bull struggled, Hamilton headed a Mercedes one-two from team-mate Nico Rosberg with Force India's Sergio Perez third quickest.

As the field tackled the latest addition to the F1 calendar for the first time, all of the top five runners were powered by Mercedes engines - but none came close to Hamilton as the 31-year-old surged almost seven tenths clear.

Despite only completing eight laps of the new Baku City Circuit in Mercedes' simulator and then declining to walk the track after arriving in the Azerbaijan capital on Thursday, the world champion was quickest in both of the day's practice sessions.

But on another bad day for world championship leader Rosberg, the German's car broke down during the final stages of Practice Two after becoming stuck in fourth gear.

Rosberg was already 0.690s slower than Hamilton on the supersoft tyres as the Englishman instantly acclimatised to a track containing both the longest straight in F1 and a section of tarmac running past Baku's medieval fort just seven metres wide.

Hamilton's benchmark lap of 1:44.223 in Practice Two was also around five seconds quicker than pre-session forecasts.

But while Hamilton impressed, both of Mercedes' closest challengers struggled to adapt to the stop-start nature of the Baku layout.

After hitting the wall in the morning, Daniel Ricciardo was just 10th for Red Bull while Sebastian Vettel was a modest eighth, almost two seconds adrift.

With frustration mounting in the Ferrari cockpit, Vettel disparaged Fernando Alonso for driving 'like a Baku bus driver' as he became stuck behind the McLaren.

The Spaniard was 11th for McLaren after being hit by an oil leak when running as high as fifth. Team-mate Jenson Button was ninth, although any encouragement felt by McLaren fans should be tempered by the team's tendency this year to show up well on Fridays only to then fall away.

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