Verstappen stamps his authority on final practice
By Mat Coch
Sunday 19th March, 2023 - 1:43am
Max Verstappen has ended final practice for the Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix more than half a second clear of the pack.
The Dutchman continued his strong Friday form, which saw him top both sessions, with Sergio Perez again next best to make for another Red Bull one-two.
Aston Martin was next best with Fernando Alonso third from Lance Stroll, while Oscar Piastri showed well to finish just 0.008s slower than Lando Norris to end the session eighth.
Skies were unusually cloudy as the session began though temperatures remained much the same as they’d been in Free Practice 1 on Friday.
The track remained silent as the pit exit opened, several drivers not even in the garage let alone strapped into their car.
Aston Martin was first out with both Alonso and Stroll heading taking to the circuit on medium compound tyres.
The pair completed two installation laps, twice heading out and immediately back in.
At Scuderia AlphaTauri, a power unit issue for Nyck de Vries meant he took no part in the session.
After 10 minutes, Piastri and Norris headed out, with Nico Hulkenberg not far behind.
Piastri was the first to record a timed lap, mustering a 1:32.531s.
That triggered a host of others to begin their sessions, Pierre Gasly quickly lowered the benchmark to 1:30.718s.
Both Mercedes drivers then went fastest, George Russell with 1:30.476s followed by Lewis Hamilton with a time just 0.016s slower.
After 19 minutes, Verstappen claimed top spot with a 1:29.882s using a set of new hard tyres.
Perez then recorded a 1:29.417s on a new soft compound tyre to go fastest.
A moment for Esteban Ocon saw the Frenchman mount the kerb at Turn 18.
The Alpine wiggled as it lost traction with Ocon catching the snap to avoid what would have been a mammoth shunt.
With 15 minutes remaining, Verstappen crossed the line to log a 1:28.756s to move 0.371s clear of team-mate Perez.
It signalled the start of qualifying simulations, with Verstappen improving to 1:28.660s on the same set of soft rubber.
Behind the two Red Bulls were the Aston Martin pair of Alonso on a 1:29.483s followed by Stroll with a 1:29.509s.
Hamilton sat fifth ahead of the two McLaren drivers, Norris just 0.008s clear of Piastri.
Charles Leclerc’s flying lap in the final three minutes netted only 10th fastest, 1.4s off the pace, becoming 11th when Carlos Sainz when 0.05s faster seconds later.
It suggested the engine mode had been turned down on the two scarlet cars both of whom remained on track for a final push lap as the chequered flag waved.
Leclerc improved on his previous effort in all three sectors to rise to sixth best, though still 1.1s away from Verstappen.
Sainz faced more traffic in his lap, dropping time in the middle of the lap before a slide in the last corner netted him a 1:29.761s to end the session 10th.
Qualifying follows, beginning at 18:00 local time (04:00 AEDT).
Results: Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Free Practice 3
|1||1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||20||1:28.485|
|2||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull||15||1:29.098||0.613|
|3||14||Fernando Alonso||Aston Martin||21||1:29.483||0.998|
|4||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||21||1:29.509||1.024|
|12||24||Guanyu Zhou||Alfa Romeo Sauber||21||1:29.917||1.432|
|18||77||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo Sauber||20||1:30.317||1.832|
|19||22||Yuki Tsunoda||Scuderia AlphaTauri||20||1:30.797||2.312|
|20||21||Nyck de Vries||Scuderia AlphaTauri||0||0:00.000||#########|
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