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Pierre Gasly's Alpine sets alight during free practice one at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Charles Leclerc splits the Red Bulls in a chaotic free practice one session at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Following the new sprint weekend format changes, free practice one becomes the only practice session scheduled during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend. How will Formula One teams change their approach to the session, going from three hours (or two during a sprint weekend) of practice to one?

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Max Verstappen sets the pace in a chaotic free practice one session at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

The start/finish straight where the cars will line up to race twice at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
The start/finish straight where the cars will line up to race twice at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. (Image Credit: @F1 on Twitter)

The F1 Commission approved significant changes to the sprint weekend format ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Now, free practice one will become the only practice session during a sprint race weekend. The session will be followed by the qualifying for the race, with the sprint shootout (or qualifying for the sprint) scheduled in the old free practice two slot on Saturday.

But who will set the quickest time during the now all-important solo practice session? As the light goes green it’s championship leader Max Verstappen who is out on track first. All 20 drivers took to the track within the first 4 minutes of the session, indicating just how important the session is for the whole grid.

Carlos Sainz hits the wall and Mercedes struggle with brakes

With the track still green, Carlos Sainz becomes the first driver to get too close to the wall. The Ferrari driver brushed the wall at turn five but seems to get away with it.

Meanwhile, both Mercedes drivers were complaining about having brake issues. Lewis Hamilton returned to the pits, while his teammate continued out on track.

A puncture for Yuki Tsunoda

Sainz was not the only driver to hit the wall early on in free practice one. Tsunoda hit the wall with his right rear tyre which caused a puncture. On his way back to the pits, the Japanese driver caused significant damage to the rear of his car that will impact the rest of his session.

Pierre Gasly’s Alpine catches fire and causes a red flag

After Tsunoda limps back to the pits with only three tyres, attention quickly turned to the Alpine of Gasly. The rear of his car was on fire as the French driver slowly cruised around the track. With qualifying for the Grand Prix only a matter of hours away, will the Alpine mechanics be able to rebuild the car for the important session? As practice restarted, the Alpine team reported that it was a loss of hydraulic pressure which caused Gasly’s problems.

Whilst the Alpine was on fire, Kevin Magnussen also pulled up on the track. While the Sky Sports F1 commentary team were talking to Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner, the team boss indicated that they were unsure what happened to their car. He said:

“We have no idea – it seems like we lost fuel pressure and he just turned everything off but we have no idea we had no radio or anything.”

With 32 minutes left on the clock, free practice one was underway once again. The drivers lost 13 minutes under the red flag, with seven-time world champion Hamilton the only driver yet to set a time.

At the halfway point

After 30 minutes of practice, it was Red Bull sitting one-two at the top of the timesheet. Verstappen posted a 1:43.834, with Sergio Perez 0.282 behind his teammate. Charles Leclerc, Sainz, and Esteban Ocon rounded out the top five. Fernando Alonso sat in P6 with the two Mercedes drivers down in P19 and P20.

Ocon out of free practice one

Friday practice went from bad to worse for Alpine. The French team had already lost Gasly from the session, and now his teammate Ocon will not take any further part in practice.

Verstappen sets the pace in free practice one

In the closing stages of the practice session, Leclerc, Perez and Verstappen were trading places at the top of the timesheet. But it was the reigning world champion that came out on top, posting a 1:42.315, 0.037 quicker than Leclerc with his teammate 0.139 behind in P3. Sainz, Lando Norris, Nyck de Vries, Lance Stroll, Alonso, Alex Albon, and Zhou Guanyu round out the top 10.

Mercedes finish the session in P11 (Hamilton) and P17 (Russell). While two of the three 2023 rookies sit in the top 10 in Baku, the third rookie, Logan Sargeant, was down in P16.

Feature Image Credit: @F1 on Twitter

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