By Alan Baldwin

BAKU (Reuters) - Formula One made its debut in Azerbaijan on Friday with some immediate teething problems and Mercedes's triple world champion Lewis Hamilton fastest in practice around the Baku street circuit.

Race director Charlie Whiting and officials spent time between the sessions fixing kerbs on the anti-clockwise layout that circles the medieval city walls and runs along the Caspian sea shore.

Qualifying for the GP2 support series was postponed and Formula One drivers were instructed to steer clear of the kerb at the exit to turn six.


Television footage had shown the edges lifting as cars went over it.

"Some small bolts had come loose at the end of the kerbs on turns six and 12, so we've taken the bolts out and welded the kerbs to each other," Whiting told Sky Sports.

"Everything's new, they've done the best they could and we just needed to do a bit of fixing."

Hamilton, who had not inspected the track beforehand because he wanted it to be a completely fresh experience in the car, lapped in one minute 46.435 seconds in the first session.

The Briton, winner of the last two races and now only nine points adrift of team mate and championship leader Nico Rosberg after seven of 21 rounds, improved that to 1:44.223 later on.

Rosberg was second in both sessions, ending the day early after stopping on track following a loss of power with some 20 minutes remaining.

Sunday's race is billed as the European Grand Prix, a designation that has previously been given to circuits in Germany, Britain and Spain rather than a country at the crossroads of Asia and Europe.

Rosberg was the first to set a timed lap while Mexican Esteban Gutierrez, in a Haas, was first to leave the pit lane and also first to leave the track with a mistake at turn 15.

Expectations of top speeds of around 340kph proved conservative with Finland's Valtteri Bottas, in a Williams, hitting 351kph early on.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo brought out the red flags to halt the first session with 22 minutes remaining after he clouted the barrier at turn 15, the impact ripping off his Red Bull's rear right wheel.

Hamilton also had a brush with the wall at turn three, while Rosberg complained he could feel something out of place behind his seat.

Bottas was third and fourth fastest respectively in the sessions while McLaren's Fernando Alonso, an 'official ambassador' for the race, was fourth in first practice.

Mexican Sergio Perez was third in the second session for Force India.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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