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Friday, 18 January, 2019

Incident-packed practice suggests there may be value in Baku

Hamilton over a second off the pace

Max Verstappen was the star of day one in Baku
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Azerbaijan Grand Prix qualifying
Channel 4 & Sky Sports F1, 2pm

Friday practices have been a more reliable barometer for the rest of a grand prix weekend than normal this season, but that may not be the case in Azerbaijan.

Max Verstappen topped both opening-day practices at a circuit that was not expected to suit his underpowered Red Bull on a day when several drivers seemed to find it hard to stay on the track.

Indeed, Verstappen himself ended up in the wall after he clumsily attempted to recover from a brake lock-up.

Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas finished second, ahead of Verstappen's teammate Daniel Ricciardo and the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel. The top five were covered by 0.251 seconds at one of the longest circuits of the year.

Conspicuous by his absence from the battle at the front was Lewis Hamilton, who could not get within a second of Verstappen and was clearly unhappy with his day's work.

Bookmakers have faith the three-time world champion can get to the bottom of his issues, making Hamilton 15-8 favourite for pole position.

It's certainly possible for him to bounce back, but there has been a pattern lately of Hamilton carrying Friday struggles throughout the weekend. 

In Russia and Monaco this year and in Singapore last season Hamilton had poor weekends in which it was clear from an early stage that he was struggling.

Vettel, too, could easily leap to the front. He was denied pole in Canada last time by an inspired lap from Hamilton; in Monaco by an uncharacteristically racy Raikkonen and in Spain before that by a mistake in the final corner.

This could easily be Vettel's day, but there is better value further down.

Bottas may be well placed to pounce if Hamilton cannot overcome his issues. He has been on the pace in practice and is the only driver other than Vettel to have qualified in the top three at every race.

His case is enhanced by the fact that other Mercedes-powered cars have done well.

Lance Stroll, having scored his first points in front of his home crowd in Canada last time, was an impressive sixth in practice for Williams.

Force India, too, were well in the top ten. Sergio Perez was fourth in the morning, despite crashing heavily before the end of the session.

Interestingly he did the same thing last year before qualifying second - although he had to start the race seventh due to having to replace a damaged gearbox after his shunt.

It would take a little luck for him to qualify on the front row, but there have been plenty of incidents so far, and he looks overpriced each-way at 150-1.

V Bottas fastest qualifier
2pts each-way 11-2 Hills
S Perez fastest qualifier
0.5pt each-way 150-1 general 

There has been a pattern lately of Hamilton carrying Friday struggles throughout the weekend
E.W. Terms
Sky bet