Gasly leads third Baku practice; Verstappen crashes

Pierre Gasly topped final practice at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after pole favorite Max Verstappen crashed out of the session less than halfway through.

Verstappen was only five laps into his program on the hard tire when he carried too much speed into Turn 15 on the fast run down the hill, coming to a halt with his right-front tire in the barrier.

Unable to engage reverse and anyway with a broken track rod, the devastated Dutchman left his car in situ, prompting a red flag. TV cameras caught him slumped and collecting his thoughts on a concrete block before returning to pit lane.

The session resumed after 10 minutes, but the remainder was messy, with several drivers failing to navigate Turn 15 in particular and triggering yellow flags that disrupted running.

AlphaTauri’s Gasly, who had held top spot up to that point, was bested by Sergio Perez is in the remaining Red Bull Racing car when he was finally able to navigate the disruptions to set a time, but the Frenchman resumed top spot from the Mexican by 0.344s with a late flying lap on fresh softs to take the unexpected initiative into qualifying.

Lewis Hamilton was third after struggling for almost the entire session. The Briton again reported a lack of grip despite the Mercedes team changing rear wings overnight to address its poor Friday form, but an uptick in performance on the soft tire rocketed him to within 0.446s of the benchmark. However, an enormous slipstream from Perez in the final sector would have earned him around half a second.

Teammate Valtteri Bottas wasn’t so fortunate around Baku’s long straights, and his best effort was almost 1.5s off the pace and good enough for only 13th in the order.

Ferrari’s impressive Friday form continued into Saturday, with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz fourth and fifth and 0.5s and 0.7s off the pace respectively. Leclerc reported that he could have been closer to the front had he not made a mistake at the final corner, and his first flying lap on fresh softs had to be abandoned when he stumbled across Nicholas Latifi in the run-off zone at Turn 4.

Lando Norris was sixth for McLaren, just 0.005s slower than Sainz. Fernando Alonso, Yuki Tsunoda and Esteban Ocon followed in 0.1s intervals, while Daniel Riccardo completed the top 10 and 1.3s off the headline time and almost 0.6s slower than his teammate.

Aston Matin teammates Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll were 11th and 12th ahead of Bottas, while Kimi Raikkonen was 14th ahead of the stricken Verstappen.

Nicholas Latifi was 16th for Williams ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi, while George Russell in 18th was a late retirement from the session with drivetrain problems. His car rolled to a stop at the end of the start-finish straight with a fluid leak, the driver reporting no drive and no gears, forcing a virtual safety car with less than seven minutes to run.

Mick Schumacher ended the session 19th ahead of Haas teammate Nikita Mazepin, who smacked his car against the outside barrier at Turn 15 and had to trundle back to the pits for repairs to his front wing and bargeboard.