Valtteri Bottas led the Formula 1 field in the opening practice session of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, while the under-fire Max Verstappen crashed in the barriers at the Baku City Circuit.

The opening 90-minute exchange around the six-kilometre street circuit saw a number of drivers struggle in the dusty, low-grip conditions. Verstappen – who has had an incident-riddled start to his season – came off worst when he slid his Red Bull Racing car into the barriers at Turn 5.

The Dutch youngster appeared to lose control of his RB14 as he braked for the left-hander. In his attempts to regain control of his car, he overcorrected, with the rear stepping out and causing him to slide sideways into the barriers. A Virtual Safety Car was deployed for nearly 10 minutes so his stricken car could be safely removed.

Max Verstappen, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14 - 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Max Verstappen inspects the damage to his Red Bull Racing RB14 after crashing out at Turn 5.

Verstappen had, until that mishap, been one of the key players in the battle for the top of the timesheets which featured Mercedes and Red Bull. The Silver Arrows of Bottas and Lewis Hamilton exchanged fastest laps before Verstappen and his teammate Daniel Ricciardo entered the mix.

One the session resumed after Verstappen’s car was cleared away, the lap times tumbled. Hamilton kicked off proceedings by returning to the top of the timesheets on an Ultrasoft tyre run before he was eclipsed by Ricciardo on Supersofts.

Bottas, also on Ultrasofts, cleared the pair by almost a second with a 1:44.242. Ricciardo improved on his next run, falling just 0.035 seconds short of the Finn’s lap time.

Hamilton was unable to improve and lay almost a second off the pace of his teammate, which allowed Sergio Pérez to claim an unexpected third-fastest on the time sheets. With the Force Indias showing promising pace, the Mexican’s teammate Esteban Ocon finished fifth-fastest and shuffled Verstappen down to sixth.

Neither Ferrari featured with representative times. Championship leader Sebastian Vettel finished tenth-fastest overall, five places clear of teammate Kimi Räikkönen.

McLaren ran varying set-up configurations to improve the straight-line speed of its MCL33 challenger. The concept appeared to work for Fernando Alonso, who finished an encouraging seventh-fastest, but by contrast teammate Stoffel Vandoorne was second-slowest.

Hot on his heels were Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, who finished eighth- and ninth-fastest respectively between Alonso and Vettel.

McLaren’s plan to experiment with its set-up in Friday practice to reduce its top-speed deficit in Baku appeared to work in FP1 as Fernando Alonso set the seventh fastest time, just ahead of another driver who has struggled for top speed this season.

Sergey Sirotkin gave Williams a boost in eighth, ahead of Pierre Gasly’s Toro Rosso. Gasly had a near-miss with Haas’ Kevin Magnussen as the pair ran side-by-side along the start/finish straight where the Dane appeared to squeeze the former GP2 Series champion towards the outside wall.

Sirotkin’s session was not without its own dramas, as he was one of several drivers to run off-track on the low-grip circuit. Brendon Hartley (twice), Carlos Sainz Jr. and Romain Grosjean also experienced off-track moments or trips up the escape roads during the session.

Friday’s second practice session gets underway at 17:00 local time (GMT +4).

Driver Team / Entry Time Gap Laps
1. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09 1:44.212 26
2. Daniel Ricciardo Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14 1:44.277 + 0.035 24
3. Sergio Pérez Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11 1:45.075 + 0.833 26
4. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09 1:45.200 + 0.958 24
5. Esteban Ocon Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11 1:45.237 + 0.995 29
6. Max Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14 1:45.559 + 1.317 11
7. Fernando Alonso McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33 1:46.465 + 2.223 25
8. Sergey Sirotkin Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41 1:46.480 + 2.238 28
9. Pierre Gasly Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13 1:46.492 + 2.250 18
10. Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 1:46.513 + 2.271 18
11. Lance Stroll Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41 1:46.590 + 2.348 26
12. Brendon Hartley Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13 1:46.747 + 2.505 32
13. Nico Hülkenberg Renault Sport F1 Team RS18 1:46.749 + 2.507 11
14. Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18 1:46.856 + 2.614 23
15. Kimi Räikkönen Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 1:46.861 + 2.619 10
16. Charles Leclerc Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37 1:46.875 + 2.633 21
17. Marcus Ericsson Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37 1:47.073 + 2.831 21
18. Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18 1:47.434 + 3.192 18
19. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33 1:47.967 + 3.725 21
20. Carlos Sainz Jr Renault Sport F1 Team RS18 1:48.741 + 4.499 11

Images via LAT and Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.