The Red Bull driver jumped to the top of the timesheets with a 1m43.184s to head Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by just 0.043s in a frantic FP1 session as Baku made its return to the F1 calendar following its absence last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ferrari continued its strong form from Monaco in first practice as Carlos Sainz joined his teammate inside the top three, while the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez was fourth-quickest.

McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly were both ahead of seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who was only seventh-fastest in FP1.

The Mercedes driver struggled to hook together a representative lap on Soft tyres after being hampered by several yellow flags and a mistake.

Hamilton ended up seven-tenths adrift of Verstappen’s benchmark, while his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas wound up in 10th, behind Lando Norris’ McLaren and Alpine’s Fernando Alonso.

A number of drivers found themselves taking a trip down one of Baku’s many escape roads, while Haas rookie Nikita Mazepin hit the wall after running wide at Turn 16 on his way to setting the slowest time in FP1.

Norris also lost control at Turn 16 and suffered a big spin that left him facing the wrong way, but he was able to continue without picking up any damage.

Click here for full results from opening practice at the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.