Baku City Circuit, Friday 23 June
As predicted, the opening day of practice for the inaugural Azerbaijan Grand Prix (last year’s race was run under the label of the ‘European GP’) was frantic and busy – and punctuated by numerous off-track excursions, yellow flags, and a couple of red-flag stoppages.
Through it all, Stoffel Vandoorne had a few harmless offs down a couple of escape roads – but ended the day 17th fastest, having posted a 17th-quickest time of 1m46.174s earlier in FP2.
Fernando was immediately quick in today’s second session, but didn’t get an opportunity to conclude his run-plan. His day was cut short by a suspected gearbox problem, which brought his MCL32 to a smoky halt on the inside of Turn 16. Nonetheless, his 1m45.515s best was still 12th overall.
FERNANDO ALONSO, McLaren Honda driver, MCL32-03
|FP1||1m47.551s (+3.141s)||20 laps||17th|
|FP2||1m45.515s (+2.153s)||15 laps||12th|
“We tested a few things in FP1 and FP2, running with different levels of downforce, trying to get some useful information for tomorrow. Stoffel worked on tyres, running on high fuel, both of which will help us make some useful decisions about strategy.
“The track was tricky today – the Prime and Back-Up tyres lose some heat on the long straights, so when you get onto the brakes they suddenly lock up and you go straight on. We saw many cars going off today, mainly because everyone tries to find their limit on Friday. I think we’ll see fewer offs tomorrow, and even fewer on Sunday.
“I lost the last half hour of the second session, so I suppose tomorrow we’ll need to do some running on high fuel, to catch up with the programme.
“We’ll have to start at the back of the grid anyway, so we’ll take things smoothly in qualifying.”
STOFFEL VANDOORNE, McLaren Honda driver, MCL32-02
|FP1||1m47.446s (+3.036s)||22 laps||15th|
|FP2||1m46.174s (+2.812s)||28 laps||17th|
“Today, we chose to concentrate on our long-run pace because we knew we’d be taking grid penalties for the race.
“Still, I quickly got to grips with the track in FP1, and I think there’s a bit more to come tomorrow. The car feels pretty positive around here, which is good because you need confidence on a street circuit. I also think the preparatory work I did in the sim has paid off pretty well – I felt immediately comfortable with where I had to brake, so it seems like the work was really worth it.
“The tyres are quite tricky again here; it looks like everyone is struggling to warm them up, with lots of people having lock-ups. It’s tricky – especially in the braking zones, because the tyres cool down on the long straights and then you have to brake very hard into the corners. The car’s really on a knife-edge in terms of extracting a good lap-time.”
ERIC BOULLIER, McLaren Honda Racing Director
“We knew coming into this race that it would be a tough weekend for the whole team.
“Fernando had a nice little engine upgrade to try this weekend – but, unfortunately, we broke the gearbox in FP2. It was a Friday unit, with high mileage, but we still managed to see some progress, which was good.
“Still, with both drivers facing grid penalties that would relegate them to either the back row of the grid or possibly a start from the pit-lane, we knew we’d need to do something a little different from the norm to get the most out of our weekend.
“So we decided to treat today as a little bit of an intensive test session, running a different Friday programme to normal. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’ll overlook the grand prix – after all, we still have to deliver a race for our fans, our partners, and for everybody working hard in Woking, Sakura and Milton Keynes.
“But we’ve adopted a different approach, trying some different ways of working to see if we can do things better or if we can learn something useful for the future.
YUSUKE HASEGAWA, Honda R&D Co. Ltd Head of F1 Project & Chief Engineer
“We came to Baku armed with an update for Fernando’s PU, which we ran during both practice sessions today. Working through our programme in accordance with today’s schedule, I can confirm that we were able to see the effectiveness of the update in the data.
“It was disappointing that Fernando had to stop the car during FP2, and unfortunately for us it was before doing his timed lap, but we still saw certain progress with the power of the PU. Overall, I regard today as positive – we didn’t have any major issues with the new spec PU, and I feel that we’ve taken an encouraging step forward.
“Although it was Stoffel’s first time at this circuit, he had a good first outing, and we were able to work through his programme in accordance with our schedule.
“As this is a power-hungry circuit with long straights, tomorrow’s qualifying will no doubt be tough for us, but, as always, we’ll keep pushing to do our best.”