Verstappen fastest as Perez struggles in final practice

Max Verstappen was fastest in final practice in Melbourne

Max Verstappen was fastest in final practice in Melbourne

Max Verstappen has ended final practice for the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix fastest in a session that proved tricky for team-mate Sergio Perez.

The Dutchman was 0.162s faster than second best, Fernando Alonso, with Esteban Ocon third.

Free Practice 3 full results here.

Perez was only sixth fastest after a number of off-track excursions as he struggled with an inconsistent brake pedal throughout the session.

Despite rain and a GPS problem on Friday limiting running for all teams, it was a typically slow start.

Conditions were cool, ambient temperatures of less than 15 degrees with a slight tailwind down the pit straight.

For most, the focus of the session, alongside fine-tuning ahead of qualifying, was making up for the high-fuel running they missed yesterday.

It was five minutes before the first meaningful time was laid down, set by Carlos Sainz at 1:19.061s on a set of soft compound tyres.

He and Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz were both out on the red rubber, while Red Bull opted for the medium tyres for Max Verstappen.

The Dutchman soon went fastest with a 1:18.741s only for Leclerc to quickly better that, albeit by 0.01s in his Ferrari.

In the opening moments, Aston Martin had sent Lance Stroll out on a set of softs while Fernando Alonso kept his powder dry.

When the Spaniard did head out, also on softs, he was the fastest of anyone to the first split.

He dropped time through the balance of the lap to end it only fourth best, behind Leclerc, Verstappen, and Stroll.

He quickly improved to sit second best on a 1:18.329s behind Sainz who’d shot to the top with a 1:18.127s.

Esteban Ocon displayed strong pace with a 1:18.709s to sit fourth at a time when Lewis Hamilton was the leading Mercedes driver in seventh.

Over the radio, George Russell had complained about the ride height of his car as he languished in 12th after 20 minutes.

Having spent the opening third of the session in the pits, Perez had a close call on track with Nico Hulkenberg.

The Haas driver was working through traffic himself as the Red Bull driver arrived on the scene exiting Turn 10.

Hulkenberg was unaware of Perez’s presence as he eased his way left on approach to Turn 11, squeezing the Mexican and forcing him to brake to avoid heavy side-by-side contact.

Kevin Magnussen in the other Haas had a moment at the penultimate corner midway through proceedings.

The Dane locked the front-left wheel, sliding onto the grass though managing to pull the car up before it reached the barrier.

He was able to rejoin, opting not to take to the lane as he headed off instead to start another lap.

At the time he sat 17th, with a best of 1:20.024s.

With 27 minutes remaining, the red flag was shown for debris on Lakeside drive – specifically exiting the sweeping left-hander approaching the Turn 9/10 chicane.

It was not immediately apparent whose car the debris was from, though Leclerc was among the first to report it to his team.

Ultimately, it came from the left sidepod of Nyck de Vries’s Scuderia AlphaTauri, the session restarting six minutes after it was halted.

Shortly thereafter Perez ran long at Turn 3, pinching the front right before bouncing through the gravel and rejoining at Turn 4.

He had another moment at the same corner soon after, though on that occasion missed the apex and remained on the racing surface.

That prompted him to report an inconsistent brake pedal, citing a loose rear end in Turn 1 and front locking into Turn 3.

In the pit lane, Lando Norris’ McLaren was on stands with the Brit standing with his engineering team, his session over with more than 15 minutes to run.

He’d logged 12 laps, with a best of 1:19.146s.

A lap from Zhou Guanyu that vaulted him to fifth signalled the start of the qualifying simulation phase with around 15 minutes to run.

The Chinese driver managed a 1:18.330s before he ran off the road at Turn 1, spinning on the grass and making light contact with the wall on the outside of Turn 2.

It was a light impact with the left-front and he was able to right the car and continue.

With 10 minutes remaining, Alonso went fastest with a 1:17.727s, though it lasted mere moments as Verstappen improved to go 0.162s quicker.

Having set a personal best lap to the second split, Perez was again off the road, this time at the penultimate corner.

The Red Bull driver again skated long, running onto the grass but otherwise doing no harm.

Again the issue was due to front locking, this time the front-left, as he approached the tight left-hander.

With three minutes remaining, the weather closed in and light rain began to fall.

It was not enough to prompt a switch to intermediate tyres but did see those in the grandstands reach for their jackets.

On track, Perez had another off, this time a Turn 1 when he locked up and slid into the gravel, bouncing his way through to rejoin at Turn 2.

Leclerc made a similar mistake moments later as the clocked ticked down.

The session ended with those in the garage heading out just before its conclusion so they could complete a practice start once the chequered flag fell.

It left Verstappen fastest from Alonso with Ocon an impressive third for Alpine.

Then came Russell for Mercedes, Gasly, Perez, Sainz, Hamilton, Stroll, and Zhou.

Oscar Piastri was 14th in a largely anonymous session which saw the Aussie bank 21 laps for a best of 1:18.713s – 1.2s away from Verstappen’s best.

He did however catch the eye of the stewards for a practice start, officials noting he did not follow the race directors’ instructions.

Qualifying follows, beginning at 16:00 AEDT.

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