Max Verstappen is anticipating a tight battle for pole position at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and expects Formula 1 rivals Mercedes and Ferrari to close the gap to Red Bull. 

Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo led the team's charge throughout Friday practice, setting the second quickest time behind Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas in the opening session before topping the timesheets in FP2.

The Australian finished just 0.069s clear of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari but was over 0.7s clear of the Mercedes duo following the qualifying simulation runs in second practice. Verstappen believes Red Bull’s pace is genuine but is remaining cautious about his team’s chances heading into qualifying.

“We look quick,” Verstappen said following the conclusion of FP2. “Of course you always want to improve and we know that in qualifying they have this power mode, so they will be even closer.

“On the other hand we also have a bit [in hand] as well. On this track it’s a lot about confidence. If you feel really good in the car, you can pick up some lap time as well."

The Dutchman - who spun in the season-opener in Australia, clashed with Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain and tangled with Sebastian Vettel in China - suffered his latest incident as he crashed at Turn 5 halfway through the morning session.

But after his Red Bull mechanics fixed his car, Verstappen recovered to post the third-fastest time in FP2, ending up just 0.116s shy of his teammate’s time. Despite the incident and further lock-ups during second practice, Verstappen insists he is happy with the way his RB14 is handing around the Baku City Circuit.

“It was a shame. I don’t know [what happened],” Verstappen said of his FP1 crash. “I couldn’t catch the car and I hit the wall, but luckily it didn’t affect us too much in second practice what happened. 

“The mechanics did a really good job repairing the car, and the car’s fast. I’m happy with that. We did pretty much the programme. The car was handling really well.”

Verstappen was seen crawling back to the pitlane in the closing moments of FP2 but later confirmed his car was "all good" and explained the reason he slowed had been down to a faulty sensor rather than an issue with his Renault power unit. 

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