Valtteri Bottas set the pace in the final free practice session for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, less than a tenth ahead of compatriot Kimi Räikkönen, as two of the main front-runners encountered technical issues.
Bottas ran a trouble-free program of 21 laps, using a set of used supersoft tyres to bank the fastest time of the session. Räikkönen meanwhile ran the shortest program of all those with a trouble-free run, with only 14 laps completed.
On the other side of the Ferrari garage, Sebastian Vettel‘s preparation for qualifying was badly compromised by a pressure loss in his car’s hydraulic circuit, which sidelined the championship leader for the last 25 minutes of the session.
The issue is a repeat of that seen during FP3 in Spain. Initial signs look positive for the German’s car being ready for qualifying though, as the issue was remedied in time for qualifying at Barcelona earlier in the year.
Vettel was not the only top driver to suffer gremlins during morning practice, as Max Verstappen ground to a halt exiting Turn 16. The Dutchman had complained minutes earlier of strange noises when running close to the limiter, and his Red Bull cried for mercy with ten minutes remaining, with all power suddenly cutting out as he shifted down through the gears.
Verstappen’s time pre-breakdown was still good enough for sixth in the session, with Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon taking up positions three through five.
There was drama further down the order once again, Everyone was able to avoid the walls lining the circuit for the first time this weekend, though Hamilton and Felipe Massa both had near misses at Turn 8. Jolyon Palmer caused the first yellow flags of the session by grinding to a halt at Turn 2, ending his running only six minutes in with the rear of his Renault ablaze.
Romain Grosjean continued to vent frustration at the failing brakes on his Haas machine. He followed up an earlier spin at Turn 2 – glancing the barriers in the process – with an overshoot at Turn 7 in the moments before the chequered flag dropped.
“Can you explain what happened?” he cried over the radio. “We can’t have 3 practice sessions and three times the [same] problem.”
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