Verstappen leads 1st practice in Baku; Perez crashes

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) Red Bull driver Max Verstappen secured the fastest time before crashing at the end of a chaotic second practice at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Friday.

The 19-year-old Verstappen, also fastest in the first practice, was narrowly ahead of Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo.

With 30 seconds remaining, Verstappen lost control of the rear of his car and slid into the barriers.

''It was very weird to be honest. I could see I wasn't going to make the corner so decided to take the run off, as I turned right I lost the rear,'' Verstappen said. ''The whole day has been really positive, except the last lap.''

He climbed out, took his helmet off and examined the car, anxious to see if there was any serious damage that needs repairing.

''Luckily, it was nothing for the race so it is all good,'' Verstappen said.

It seemed a fitting way to end the day, considering the Baku street circuit had been like an ice rink, with drivers sliding around as they constantly struggled for grip and balance.

Formula One leader Sebastian Vettel was fourth fastest, and Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen fifth.

Lewis Hamilton, trailing Vettel by 12 points, preferred not to take risks ahead of the third practice and qualifying on Saturday. He finished the second session in 10th. But even driving very much within himself on a misbehaving track, he still almost crashed into Raikkonen.

''It was a difficult day out there. This circuit is a tough one,'' Hamilton said. ''We've clearly still got lots of work to do ahead of qualifying. It's just a case of getting our heads together tonight to work out exactly how to extract that pace.''

The highly treacherous Turn 8 caused severe problems all day.

Force India driver Sergio Perez, who crashed on Turn 8 in the first practice, almost ploughed straight back into the same barrier in the second. British driver Jolyon Palmer did just that, bringing the red flag out and briefly halting the session midway through.

Vettel, twice, and Williams driver Felipe Massa had near misses on the same turn, while Ricciardo was instructed on team radio to take precautionary measures and go very wide heading into Turn 8 to give himself room.

On another frustrating day for Fernando Alonso, the Spanish driver ended up helping mechanics wheel his car away after the engine blew with about 30 minutes left.

Alonso then stood and wistfully watched from behind the protective barriers, hands on hips, which was seemingly a better option than going back to a despondent team garage.

McLaren is the only team yet to score a point, and continues to be blighted by its unreliable Honda engine, prompting growing speculation that management is out of patience and considering a deal with Mercedes as its engine supplier.

Verstappen posted the fastest time in the first session ahead of Ricciardo and Vettel.

When it got underway, track temperatures were at a blistering 54 degrees C (129 degrees F). That dropped to a less demanding 44 degrees C (111 degrees F) when the second session started at 5 p.m. local time, the same time as Sunday's race.

It promises to be a tricky one.

The 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) circuit glides through the city's medieval walls and passes the Caspian sea. With F1's fastest top speed, and its combination of long straights and hard-braking corners, it poses big problems for grip.

In the opening practice session, Bottas narrowly missed the barriers while Perez mangled both wheels on the right of his car on Turn 8.

Drivers were being severely tested in other sections, too.

Russian driver Daniil Kvyat sent debris onto the track after clipping the barriers with his Toro Rosso on Turn 14, while Sauber driver Marcus Ericcson was sliding everywhere near the end of the second session.

Meanwhile, French driver Romain Grosjean was slowest and ranted constantly about brake trouble in his Haas car.

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