Verstappen fastest as traffic remains an issue
By Mat Coch
Sunday 5th December, 2021 - 2:09am
Max Verstappen topped the final practice session ahead of the Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in a session which again saw traffic a key talking point.
Red Bull ended the session first and third, Lewis Hamilton splitting the pair but fortunate to escape a frightening moment with Nikita Mazepin.
The Mercedes was moving slowly through the middle part of the lap when Mazepin arrived at full-pelt, bouncing over the kerbing to avoid colliding heavily with the seven-time world champion.
The two Haas drivers were the first out in another slow start, on Kimi Raikkonen and the two Aston Martin’s joining them in the opening five minutes.
Approaching the 10-minute mark, both Mercedes headed out, Valtteri Bottas ahead of Lewis Hamilton, the pair on hard compound tyres.
The Finn recorded a 1:30.394s with his first flying lap, while his team-mate opted for two warmup laps.
Championship leader Verstappen left the garage with 13 minutes run, a set of red-walled tyres bolted on to his Red Bull.
As he did so, Hamilton logged a 1:29.605s to go fastest, demoting Raikkonen who’d briefly risen to the top of the timesheets.
Yellow flags were shown when Hamilton pinched his front-left tyre before taking to the escape road.
Verstappen was cruising without obvious reason for him to do so, only to start a flying lap on his third tour.
It was a solid but unspectacular lap, netting him third best with a 1:29.863s.
That became fourth when Sergio Perez shot to the top with a 1:29.511s, only for the Mexican to quickly tumble as first Hamilton then Bottas went quicker.
Hamilton held the fastest time after 20 minutes, his 1:29.197s leaving him 0.2s clear of his Mercedes team-mate.
Daniel Ricciardo was the last man to head out on track, setting his first timed lap after 23 minutes – a 1:30.730s on a set of soft tyres.
Still on track, Hamilton improved again to 1:28.314s to move further clear of the pack – 0.9s ahead of Carlos Sainz.
Pierre Gasly then demoted Sainz when the AlphaTauri driver, with a set of mediums fitted, recorded a 1:28.715s.
A second effort lap saw Verstappen climb to 0.335s off the back of Hamilton, second fastest in the session after 26 minutes.
Perez continued his promising pace, his best improving to a 1:28.892s leaving him fourth best midway through the session.
His Red Bull team-mate soon after went fastest, Verstappen setting a 1:28.212s on a set of soft tyres that had already chalked up eight laps.
Having swapped to the soft compound rubber, Hamilton was unable to improve on his earlier effort.
It followed a trend of drivers struggling out of the pits, with the trend suggesting tyres needed to be eased in over a handful of laps.
A moment between Gasly and Hamilton at the first corner saw the AlphaTauri driver take to the escape road.
Hamilton had just completed a timed lap while the Frenchman was about to begin one, leading to the awkward encounter.
The Mercedes pilot was then in the wars again when Mazepin approached the slow moving W12 in the first sector, the Russian having to take avoiding action by bouncing over the kerbs.
It was a potentially disastrous moment, one that saw no flags shown to either driver, leaving race director Michael Masi to advise the Haas pit wall that he would take up the matter with Mercedes directly.
Inside of the final 15 minutes, Verstappen completed another push lap, setting a 1:28.105s on another set of soft compound tyres.
By the end of the session, Verstappen remained fastest with a 1:28.100s from Hamilton with Perez third.
Then came the two AlphaTauris, headed by Yuki Tsunoda over Gasly, and only then was Bottas.
Next were the two Ferraris followed by Esteban Ocon and Lando Norris, whose 1:29.300s was 0.2s off the back of Carlos Sainz.
Cars are next on track for qualifying, which gets underway at 04:00 AEDT.
Results: Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Free Practice 3
|1||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing||1:28.100||20|
|3||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing||1:28.629||+0.529s||21|
|4||22||Yuki Tsunoda||Scuderia AlphaTauri||1:28.641||+0.541s||20|
|5||10||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia AlphaTauri||1:28.715||+0.615s||22|
|12||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||1:29.590||+1.490s||20|
|13||7||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||1:29.689||+1.589s||24|
|15||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||1:30.030||+1.930s||14|
|17||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||1:30.296||+2.196s||15|