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Hamilton: Mercedes driver fastest in Baku practice

Britain's Lewis Hamilton led the way ahead of German team-mate Nico Rosberg during Friday's practice for this weekend's European Grand Prix.

Hamilton: Mercedes driver fastest in Baku practice
ANDREJ ISAKOVIC AFP

Lewis Hamilton topped the times with a smile on Friday after conquering the challenge of learning the new Baku street circuit in a single day's practice ahead of this weekend's European Grand Prix.

The defending three-time world champion, who outpaced Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg by seven-tenths of a second in the second session, said he had enjoyed his experience, but added that the track surface was very slippery.

"It's been a good day for me," he said. "And it's a nice way to start the weekend. The track isn't easy, not because the layout is particularly difficult to learn, but because it's very slippery out there.

"It's quite Monaco-esque in terms of braking and how close the barriers are, but you're arriving at much higher speeds.

"Otherwise, it's like a mixture of Valencia and Sochi, with the smooth track surface and the style of the corners themselves.

"It's a real challenge and I think it's going to be tough for everyone over the weekend. It takes a lot of focus, which I like. I've enjoyed driving today."

The second session ended with Hamilton, who has trimmed Rosberg's lead in the title race from 43 points to nine in the last month, fastest in one minute and 44.223 seconds.

Third was Mexican Sergio Pérez, a driver linked with a possible move to Ferrari, who shone for Force India.

"The track is pretty cool," said Rosberg. "There are just some safety concerns at a few places, like the pit entry, which we have to look into.

"Unfortunately my second session was a bit compromised as I had to stop the car after I lost power.

"We are still investigating. I was a bit surprised by the order. I don't really know what to expect from Red Bull and Ferrari, as they've been our closest rivals so far, so we'll see."

Hamilton was one of a number of drivers who went off-circuit and brushed the barriers on a day of accidents, incidents and car failures.

Hamilton during practice for the European Formula One Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit.

Many of the problems were caused by the track's tricky design and lack of run-off space, but others were due to loose kerbs, most of which had to be refixed between sessions.

The track, described as dangerous in places by many drivers, including 2009 champion Jenson Button of McLaren and Rosberg, claimed many victims who struggled with the dusty surface and tight turns lacking broad run-off spaces.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo provided the most spectacular incident of the day when he crashed at Turn 15 in the opening session, which was red-flagged to clear the track.

His Red Bull was repaired and he rejoined in the second practice.

"I expected someone to take out the barrier in T8 first, but I was the one in T15," said Ricciardo.

"I felt a bit bad about it. I said sorry to the guys. On this new surface, if you can get that tyre to work, and find the grip, I think it equates to a big chunk of time."

Valtteri Bottas was fourth for Williams ahead of Nico Hulkenberg in the second Force India.

"I think we can be strong here," said Bottas. "It's a good challenge."

Sebastian Vettel just made the top 10, the four-time champion ending his day cruising back to the pits slowly as Ferrari diagnosed mechanical problems for both of their cars.

"It's about trying to get the tyres to work for one lap and this seems to be a difficulty right now," said Vettel's Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.