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Alfa Romeo’s Guanyu Zhou before practice at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Photo: Reuters

F1: Zhou Guanyu targets ‘big gains’ in qualifying after Azerbaijan Grand Prix practice in Baku

  • Chinese rookie ‘quite confident’ after Friday two practice sessions at Baku City Circuit
  • The 23-year-old warns Alfa Romeo team ‘there are still some parts we have to work on’

Chinese rookie Zhou Guanyu is hoping he and his Alfa Romeo team can make some “big gains” in Saturday’s F1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix qualifying session.

The 23-year-old was 16th overall in FP1 on Friday, setting a best time of one minute and 48.222 seconds over his 24 laps at the Baku City Circuit.

He finished in the same position for FP2, but shaved off plenty of time with his best lap – 1:45.264 – and thinks there is not much separating the middle of the pack.

Alfa Romeo’s Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu steers his car during the second practice session at the Baku City Circuit. Photo: AFP

“I liked it, I enjoyed it,” Zhou said. “No mistakes. Reasonably quick to get into the speed, compared to Jeddah, Monaco. So I’m quite happy with that.

“As a team there are still some parts we have to work on, but I’m quite confident. We know what we’ve got for tomorrow’s qualifying. It’s probably not the speed we want to see on Friday, but it seems we’re quite comfortable with everything.

F1: Verstappen gunning for redemption at Azerbaijan Grand Prix

“The mid-field battle, as we saw also in P2, is very tight between – I have to say – P10 all the way to P16. If you find a few 10ths [of a second], one or two 10ths, it can be a big gain of positions in qualifying.

“Also with the track position. I’d like to find it as much as we can in the car and give it our all tomorrow.”

Charles Leclerc pushed Red Bull rival Sergio Perez off the top of the time sheets to end Friday practice with the fastest time for Ferrari.

Charles Leclerc of Ferrari is seen ahead of a practice session. Photo: dpa

The Monegasque, who had trailed Perez at the end of the first session, pulled out a 1:43.224 lap in the second hour of running to end the day 0.248 seconds clear of the Mexican.

Championship leader Max Verstappen was third, 0.356 seconds off the pace. The Dutchman leads Leclerc by nine points in the overall standings after seven of this season’s 22 rounds.

Perez, the winner in Monaco two weeks ago who is bidding to become the first repeat winner in Baku on Sunday, is third – 15 points behind his Red Bull teammate.

Behind the top-three, Fernando Alonso went fourth quickest for Alpine ahead of compatriot Carlos Sainz who was fifth for Ferrari. The double world champion showed promising pace in both sessions, having been fifth quickest in the opening hour.

Red Bull’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen steers his car during the second practice session ahead of the Formula One Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the Baku City Circuit. Photo: AFP

Frenchman Pierre Gasly ended the day sixth for AlphaTauri ahead of George Russell in the Mercedes and teammate Yuki Tsunoda.

Esteban Ocon in the other Alpine and McLaren’s Lando Norris rounded out the top 10 ahead of Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix, run around an unforgiving layout known for catching drivers out, has a reputation for serving up the unpredictable. But there were no major incidents that disrupted running on Friday.

Mick Schumacher and Nicholas Latifi caused two virtual safety car periods during the first session. Several drivers also kissed the barriers or ran wide into the run-off areas as they tested the limits of the track.

Cars were also seen to be “porpoising” or bouncing dramatically as they sped down the start-finish straight.