Frenchman quickest in Free Practice 
GP2 Series leader Norman Nato had the perfect start to his race weekend today as he topped the timesheet in the free practice session at the Baku city circuit in a 1:55.394 ahead of rookie Antonio Giovinazzi and Sergey Sirotkin.
The session opened under sunny but windy conditions as the drivers fed onto the dirty Azerbaijani track on Medium Pirelli tyres. Nato set the early pace in a 1:58.148 as the drivers got to grips with the twisty and technical new track. The RUSSIAN TIME pair were the first drivers to challenge the Racing Engineering man: Artem Markelov went top first, but Raffaele Marciello bettered his teammate’s time in a 1:57.464 to sit pretty at the top of the standings. The session was interrupted by a first Virtual Safety Car as an ambulance was moved out of the run off area at Turn 15.

When the action picked up again, PREMA’s Giovinazzi found some extra pace to dip under 1m57s to claim the top spot – +0.5s ahead of Nato who had then moved up to P2. The Italian ace went even faster shortly after that and lapped the track in a 1:55.719 as Sirotkin and Pierre Gasly also improved to move to P2 and P3 respectively.

In the final stages, Nato went quickest and edged Giovinazzi out of P1. Sirotkin found a clear lap to improve and moved up to third. The run off area at Turn 15 proved to be useful as Marciello, Philo Paz Armand, Gustav Malja and Nobuharu Matsushita all tested it out with the latter stopping and retiring with five minutes left on the clock. The VSC was redeployed until the chequered flag as the marshals retrieved the ART car.

At the end of the session, Nato remained top ahead of Giovinazzi, Sirotkin, Gasly, Rowland, Luca Ghiotto, Jordan King, Arthur Pic, Marciello and Sergio Canamasas. With the drivers now more familiar with this new layout, today’s qualifying session promises to be thrilling.



Sergio on Baku
Sergio Perez aims to continue his points-scoring run with another strong showing in Azerbaijan.
Sergio: “The last weekend in Canada was not one of the easiest for me, so to come away from it with a point was a good result. I have now been in the points for the last four races on a range of very different tracks: this builds our confidence and makes us believe we can challenge for a place in the top ten in every race.
“To prepare for Baku I have watched the onboard video that was circulated and the first impression is that the track is going to be really challenging. There are a lot of tight sections, as you would expect from a street track, but it looks more high-speed than Monaco: it’s the kind of circuit I enjoy driving and it should make for a good show.
“I’ve never been to Azerbaijan, so it feels like an adventure. It’s always interesting to explore a new place for the first time and take in the sights of a new city. It’s great that our sport keeps going to new countries and reaching out to new fans. Once we get to the track, though, it’s business as usual. It’s important to learn the circuit quickly, so the track walk with the engineers and the first practice session are crucial. You need to get up to speed within a handful of laps.”
Nico on Baku
Nico Hülkenberg is getting ready for a new racing experience in Baku.
Nico: “Canada was a positive race as we were able to get the most out of a relatively straightforward weekend. To finish eighth in a race with such low attrition was a very good result and it showed we can fight for points everywhere. There is every reason to believe we can continue this run as we approach the summer break, and this obviously spurs us on.
“I’m massively excited about the race in Baku, actually! New venues are cool; everything is fresh and everyone welcomes you. I have to admit I don’t know a lot about Azerbaijan, so it will be exciting to get to know this new place. I like to arrive in a place and get out to discover it: it’s one of the perks of our job, being able to see so much of the world.
“Learning the track is crucial. I haven’t had a chance to try it in the simulator yet but I saw the video on YouTube earlier last week. In any case, it really is all about getting there, getting into the car and finding out about the track in those first few laps. The layout looks fast, especially for a street circuit: there is a massive straight, with just a few flat-out kinks, and some more twisty sections which will require a compromise in terms of set-up. I am a big fan of street circuits: they provide you with unique thrills, you drive close to the walls and it’s much more of a challenge to push your car and yourself to the limit.”



The unpredictability caused by treacherous conditions and Safety Cars, as well as the 33-strong field comprising British GT and GT4 European Series entries, was underlined by Century Motorsport’s Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke starting ninth but finishing second, while Beechdean AMR’s Jordan Albert and Jack Bartholomew completed the podium after running in the top-three for much of the afternoon.

Heavy rain ensured the three-hour, 500-kilometre contest started under Safety Car conditions, but when racing began in earnest after three laps it was Bartholomew who reacted quickest to wrestle the lead from Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse’s Sandy Mitchell around the outside of Copse. Marcus Hoggarth also made his customary electric start to bring the Ebor GT Maserati up from 12th to third before a second Safety Car was required for debris on track with 34 minutes gone.

However, it was the subsequent flurry of pit-stops that brought RCIB Insurance Racing’s #75 Ginetta into the frame. The combination of stopping a lap later than most of their rivals and vagaries of the Safety Car’s position on track helped Barrable, who’d taken over from Mason, make up half a lap on the rest of the field, which was enough to give him the lead once racing resumed.

The Irishman’s rallying pedigree then became apparent in the wet and greasy conditions before Mason climbed back aboard. Another perfectly executed stint followed but, again, the team’s decision to delay its final stop in an effort to see out a short, sharp rain shower before switching to slick tyres paid dividends.

Their pit-stop success penalty for finishing third at Oulton meant Barrable was held stationary for an additional 10 seconds, but that proved insufficient to prevent him from catching and passing Matt Nicoll-Jones’ Academy Motorsport Aston Martin that effectively held the class lead as the highest placed contender to have made its three mandatory stops.

Barrable eventually took the chequered flag 18 seconds clear of the next best GT4 and over a minute ahead of he and Mason’s nearest British GT rivals, Walewska and Freke, who kept their noses clean throughout the three hours to equal their best result of the season. Beechdean AMR’s Bartholomew and Albert were ever-present in the top-four en route to third while Nicoll-Jones and Dennis Strandberg’s alternative strategy of stopping under the Safety Car in the opening laps netted them fourth on a one-off domestic outing.

Century’s second Ginetta, driven by Sean Byrne and Aleksander Schjerpen, also went under the radar on its way to fifth after starting 13th of the British GT4 contingent. Ebor GT’s Hoggarth and Abbie Eaton might well have finished on the podium after the latter lead for much of the crew’s second stint before a combination of Hoggarth’s spin and 15-second success penalty for finishing as runner-up at Oulton relegated them to sixth.

A number of high-profile candidates fell by the wayside, including Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty’s pole-sitting Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 570S which, like the Maserati, would have been a podium contender were it not for an intermittent engine issue that eventually forced its retirement

Generation AMR Macmillan Racing’s Matty Graham span his Aston Martin into the gravel trap in the worst of the early conditions while erstwhile championship leaders Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson’s PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport Ginetta suffered heavy damage when it was removed from the reckoning by Richard Neary’s BMW Z4 GT3. Lanan Racing’s Alex Reed and Joey Foster were also in podium contention when a late race technical issue ended their afternoon early.

All of that means Bartholomew and Jordan have re-taken the championship lead, albeit by just 3.5 points from Johnson and Robinson who still enjoy a 21.5-point cushion over Walewska and Freke in third.

Jake Giddings might have finished 13th in class but his best of 2m15.206s was enough to seal the Sunoco Fastest Lap of the Weekend Award and a new British GT4 lap record for Silverstone.



Race Notes:
  • Valtteri Bottas claimed the team’s first podium of the season, finishing third in today’s Canadian Grand Prix
  • Felipe Massa was forced to retire following a water system issue that caused his power unit to overheat on lap 36
  • Valtteri had a good start and managed to gain a position as a result of Rosberg going straight on at Turn 1. He made his only pitstop of the race on lap 23. Following his stop he was able to pass Ricciardo for fourth making his strategy work to move into third after Vesptappen stopped on lap 46.
  • Felipe was running seventh before his only pitstop of the race on lap 22. He was managing his tyres well before being forced to retire
  • The team collected 15 points to extend the gap to fifth-placed Force India to 39 points in the Constructors’ Championship
Rob Smedley, Head of Performance Engineering: I think that was a really good race for us with a well-deserved podium. As we expected, the pace of the car in these conditions was good. We gave away very little to the frontrunners and we beat Red Bull on track, which is really positive. The strategy was absolutely spot on. When other teams were doing two stops, we held our nerve and stuck with our one-stop strategy as planned, and it all worked out very well for us. Valtteri drove a great race and the two pitstops that the pit crew did were really great as well. There’s a bitter aftertaste with the fact that we could have had both cars up there. Felipe would have finished anywhere from fourth to sixth so that’s a lot of points we’ve lost there with the water system issue that caused the temperatures to rise. We went through a series of counter measures to try and get round it, but none of them worked. We therefore had to take the decision to retire the car because the power unit is right at the start of its life. Overall I think it’s a really positive result for the team. We’ve extended the gap to the people behind us, and even with one car out of the points we’ve lost very little to third place. We’ve got lots of good races coming up now; Azerbaijan, Austria, Silverstone, they’re all positive races. We have to look forward now and keep this momentum going.
Valtteri Bottas: I’m very happy with what we achieved as a team today. It’s a shame with what happened to Felipe, but this gives us a big motivation boost for the next few races. I think today shows that we are a strong team who can deliver good results. Our strategy was great and our pitstop was really good, yet again. It was definitely one of my best races. I’m really pleased with today and looking forward to the next race.



DANIEL RICCIARDO, Position: 4th, 1:13.166 (Practice 3 – P6, 1:14.487)
“I’m pretty happy. This weekend was steady – I think we built up to it and found a better rhythm in qualifying, and as always it’s the most important session, so I made sure I got it all together and in the end I’m pretty happy with fourth. My pace is only a few tenths from pole which is pretty good around here. I was quite lucky on my last lap in the last chicane, I hit the wall pretty hard and luckily it got me to the line and I didn’t lose too much time. The start is important here, but you can pass. I think we’ve got pretty good straight line speed now so we’re in a position to overtake. Tomorrow’s going to be cool, if not wet, so with those conditions it could be anyone’s race. Hopefully it’s a five or six way fight – that could be a lot of fun. I think being on the right tyre at the right time is crucial. It’s about being smart, but being quick at the same time, so it’s worth taking some risks.”
MAX VERSTAPPEN, Position: 5th, 1:13.414 (Practice 3 – P2, 1:14.158)
“Definitely a much better qualifying for me today, top five which is around where we wanted to be. I had hoped we would have been a bit closer to Mercedes but it is what it is. They turn up the power in qualifying and seem to be very strong so hopefully tomorrow we can be a bit closer. My last run in Q3 wasn’t great, you should usually improve and I didn’t but it’s not so bad. Our race pace is looking good and that is where you score the points, also you never know with the weather. No hot moments for me in qualifying today, here in Canada you run close to the barriers but you still have time to correct it, unlike Monaco. Conditions are a bit different from yesterday so you have to change your driving style as it’s very easy to lock up or run wide. It will be difficult to beat the Mercedes, and the Ferrari’s also look quick but hopefully a bit of rain will help us tomorrow in the race. I think it will be very challenging.”
“An exciting qualifying session, and for our drivers to line up fourth and fifth at this circuit is certainly more than we expected. A great final lap from Daniel Ricciardo put him within 0.35 of Lewis’s pole time which is a huge achievement. Starting from fourth and fifth on the grid with a bit of weather around as well has got all of the ingredients for a really exciting race. It also demonstrates the progress that the engine has made within the last 12 months, we were well over a second away and now we are within 0.35 of the pole position.”



“Obviously nice to be driving again for sure, and it’s a nice circuit – I enjoy it here. I think the day was ok; we can still find some more speed so we’ll work hard tonight to hopefully find some good solutions which can put us towards the top four tomorrow and close to Ferrari. Mercedes looked strong today, their long run pace was probably more impressive than their short run pace so that’s where I think we need to improve. Our long runs can be better for both me and Max, so that’s what we’ll look at tonight. On Sunday the weather looks like it could change, so we will wait and see as it will affect things. I expect the gap to Lewis to be less than a second tomorrow, how much less I’m not sure but I think we can close the gap quite a lot from today.
“Not a bad first day at the track, good day, good weather. I’m more or less happy with the balance we have, now it’s down to fine tuning little bits and getting some lap time out of that. It’s always very challenging here, you ride the curbs and get a bit of a go kart feel so I always enjoy it. The first feeling with the new engine was very positive, you’re always happy when you get more power. We understood the car setup and the engine felt good which is important. We did some good lap times and a long run which was promising. Ferrari look to have a bit better pace here so we still need to do some work and improve but overall it’s been a positive day. Looking at tomorrow, in qualifying you always want the softest tyres so we’ll put them on but on Sunday there is a chance of rain so we will have to wait and see what to do.”

The Premiere Motorsport Podcast