Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton drives during the first practice session ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. REUTERS

BAKU: Lewis Hamilton has acknowledged that Mercedes still have significant room for improvement after a troubled practice day on Friday ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Hamilton dominated practice in Baku last year ahead of Azerbaijan’s first grand prix, but struggled on Friday and finished the second session in 10th place, 1.163 seconds behind pace-setter Max Verstappen.

He also nearly collided with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen at the first turn.

The three-times world champion will be desperate to banish memories of last year’s race, when he clipped a barrier in qualifying, started 10th on the grid, and ended up in fifth.

“It was a difficult day out there,” Briton Hamilton said. “This circuit is a tough one and we had a few challenges that we tried to work through today.

“We’ve clearly still got lots of work to do ahead of qualifying, but (team mate) Valtteri (Bottas)’s time in FP2 looked promising, so there is obviously pace in the car, which is encouraging.

“Now it’s just a case of getting our heads together tonight to work out exactly how to extract that pace across the entire weekend.”

Finnish driver Bottas predicted on Thursday that some drivers would struggle with the slippy and dusty conditions in Baku’s street circuit, and he was proved right as Sergio Perez, Jolyon Palmer and Verstappen crashed into the barriers.

It was a “scrappy day punctuated every few seconds by dozens and dozens of off-track frolics“, according to Mercedes technical director James Allison.

But although Bottas had a close shave after going into a spin on Turn 10 in practice one, he recovered to finish second, a 10th of a second behind Verstappen, in the evening.

“Practice one was quite tricky,” Bottas said. “We were struggling with the set-up of the car and it wasn’t so well balanced.

“Today, we needed multiple laps in a row to generate the temperatures we want for a good balance. FP1 wasn’t a happy session, but we made some changes ahead of FP2 and the car definitely felt more comfortable,” he added.

“We are moving in the right direction and hopefully we’ll make another step this evening. We’ll work hard and if we can find those gains we’ll be right up there fighting for pole position.” --REUTERS

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