Sergio Perez fastest in practice for Azerbaijan GP; Lewis Hamilton 11th as Mercedes slow

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BAKU, Azerbaijan — Red Bull dominated both practice sessions for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix with Sergio Perez setting the fastest time Friday, and title rival Mercedes far off the pace.

Perez set a time of 1 minute, 42.115 seconds in second practice to lead teammate Max Verstappen by 0.101 seconds. Verstappen had been fastest in the first session.

Mercedes could manage only 11th for defending champion Lewis Hamilton in the second practice — more than a second off the pace — and 16th for Valtteri Bottas.

In the first session, Hamilton was seventh and Valtteri Bottas 10th.

Verstappen heads into the weekend as championship leader for the first time after winning the Monaco Grand Prix.

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Red Bull’s speed could add to a dispute with Mercedes about what Hamilton has called “bendy” rear wings on the cars. The wings are believed to flex into a flatter profile at high speed, potentially reducing drag and increasing pace on the long straight at the Baku street circuit.

New tests for the wings have been announced by governing body FIA but take effect only for the next race in France.

Friday was also a triumph for Ferrari, which was the only team with comparable pace to Red Bull.

Carlos Sainz was third, 0.128 seconds slower than Perez, and Charles Leclerc was fourth after losing his front wing when he locked up a wheel and slid into the barrier.

Ferrari had good pace on another street circuit in Monaco as Leclerc took pole but then couldn’t start the race because of car damage. Leclerc had predicted the long straight in Azerbaijan would work against his team though.

Running time in the second session was limited and fragmented because of Leclerc’s issues and a red flag when Nicholas Latifi came to a halt in his Williams with engine trouble.

Sergio Perez fastest in practice for Azerbaijan GP; Lewis Hamilton 11th as Mercedes slow originally appeared on NBCSports.com