Twenty racing drivers – arguably 20 of the best in the world – competed for the fastest time in the two practice sessions here on Friday.
In the second fourteen of them, some more than once, either spun or went down escape roads. It was a not dissimilar story in the first session, at the beginning of the afternoon. Two drivers – Sergio Perez and Jolyon Palmer – did their cars a power of no good.
They call the Baku street track a circuit of two halves, because some of it is frankly Mickey Mouse with tight corners and limited space, and some blisteringly fast. It’s often windy too, though that was not the big factor today.
The surface was dirty. That meant cars were sliding around in any case, despite two sessions for the Formula 2 cars as well which should have helped it to rubber in – when a layer of used rubber smeared on to the Tarmac by the passing of racing cars helps the surface to grip up.
That sliding, allied to the fact that there were so many incidents, meant few got the consistent laps they needed to get Pirelli’s tyres in to their narrow temperature operating windows. And then the tyres aren’t hot enough, the braking gets affected, so does the cornering, and cars go down escape roads, get their tyres dirtier still, and so the vicious cycle continues.
Never in a Formula 1 session was reverse gear used by so many, the situation nearing farce in the evening session when, having visited the escape road in Turn 8 for the umpteenth time, world championship points leader Sebastian Vettel had to wait for Felipe Massa to back up in his Williams before he could do likewise.
If you were a spectator it was exciting and you’d probably feel you’d got a good bang for your buck, possibly it was even slightly comical.
If you were a driver intent on honing the set-up of your car while making the critical decisions with your engineers about the delicate balance between decent cornering…