Carlos Sainz said after Monaco that he expected his former McLaren team to fly in Baku with their “rocket” of a car. But after Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo ended up P8 and P13 in Free Practice 3 – as Sainz and Charles Leclerc took P3 and P4 for Ferrari – it looked on Friday’s evidence that Sainz’s prediction might have been slightly wide of the mark…
McLaren had been in the mix in Free Practice 1, Ricciardo taking fifth as Norris claimed eighth, having spun at Turn 16 on a faster lap. But the team appeared to slip back in FP2, Norris finishing eighth again, but 0.903s off Red Bull driver Sergio Perez’s leading pace, as Ricciardo took 13th, 1.183s adrift.
And with Monaco podium finisher Norris having been outpaced by the likes of Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly around Baku’s streets – as Ferrari once again showed impressive pace, Sainz just 0.128s adrift of Perez – Norris appeared daunted by the gap to the frontrunners.
“I think it looks very close between us, AlphaTauri, Renaults [Alpines] and so on,” said Norris. “Ferrari and Red Bull look quite a long way ahead of us, so it’s going to be tough. Just getting into Q3’s going to be the main target and see what we can do from there.
“I think we’re looking alright,” he added. “We were definitely a bit more competitive in FP1 than FP2, so I don’t know if it’s because of the temperatures or the track conditions that we suffered a little bit more in P2.
“But things are good. I think the car feels pretty good. I’m quite confident in the car, just some things to improve. We’re there or thereabouts but not quite where we want to be.”
Monaco was a gruelling encounter last time out for Daniel Ricciardo, who finished a lap down in 12th. But having put in the hard miles in McLaren’s simulator in the intervening weeks, the 2017 Baku winner appeared pleased with his progress in the MCL35M on Friday
“It was not too bad – I think it was a fairly productive day,” said Ricciardo. “I think the afternoon, it was a little bit messy – I think there were Virtual Safety Cars and we didn’t hit the laps on the first timeds with the softs. So for sure there’s a bit more there.
Daniel Ricciardo upbeat as he says he just needs ‘to execute what I know I can do’
“I did quite a bit of work from Monaco into this race, spent a few days on the sim and I think the work has paid off, I think the understanding of the car [is better],” he added. “So everything feels as expected, and I’ve just got to now execute what I know I can do and just put it all together.
“It is quite close. A few tenths gets us up into about P6 or P7 probably. But it was better, a better day. A bit of work tonight but I think it’s going to be a pretty close weekend. There’s a lot of teams than can be within a few tenths of each other.”
Ferrari’s strong performance in Baku will be worrying for McLaren, who sit just two points clear of their rivals in P3 in the constructors’ standings.