F1 Saudi Arabian GP: Verstappen heads FP3 by 0.6s from Perez, Alonso

by 24USATVMarch 18, 2023, 8 p.m. 13

Having headed the opening pair of practice sessions on Friday, Verstappen showcased more excellent pace on Saturday afternoon with early hard tyre runs, prior to a flurry of laps on the softest compound that culminated in his headline 1m28.485s time.

This was well clear of fellow Red Bull driver Perez, and despite the Mexican's improvement ahead of the final five minutes, the resultant 1m29.098s was still considerably far away from Verstappen's efforts.

Aston Martin was the only willing participant in a slow opening 10 minutes to the session which, despite being considerably more overcast compared to Friday's running, was still pegged at 27 degrees Celsius.

Neither set a competitive lap time, as Stroll struggled with radio issues before the deadlock was broken 10 minutes in with the appearance of the McLarens, Nico Hulkenberg, and the Alpines.

Oscar Piastri kicked off proceedings with a 1m32.531s, but was brushed aside by Hulkenberg's 1m32.449s.

Pierre Gasly then catapulted his car to the top of the shortened timesheets with a 1m30.718s, joined by Alpine team-mate Esteban Ocon, before the two were split by a lap from Verstappen - who ran on the hard tyre relative to the Alpine duo's softs.

The Mercedes duo then emerged and sprung to the top of the pile; George Russell logged a 1m30.476s on soft boots and edged Lewis Hamilton by just 0.016s.

Gasly vaulted to the top again with a 1m30.161s, before Verstappen hammered in a 1m29.882s to continue his impressive pace on the hardest compound to throw down the gauntlet to the rest of the field.

His former team-mate Gasly got close with a 1m29.935s on another run with softs before Verstappen extended his lead by just over a tenth, but Sergio Perez swung in with a 1m29.417s to eclipse his team-mate by three tenths of a second.

Continuing on his hard tyres, Verstappen closed the gap down to 0.132s having improved his run during the middle sector of the lap, but could not chisel Perez away from first place.

Russell then looked good to challenge to the front-runners after setting the fastest opening sector, but lost time in the subsequent sectors on the soft tyres and emerged behind the Alpines on the timing board.

There was little change in the order over the next 15 minutes as teams waited for the track temperature to fall towards the end of the session. Once the track fell below 40 degrees, Gasly was able to bolt on new softs and post a 1m29.701s to close up on the Red Bull pair, and Hamilton then split the Alpines as Ocon suffered a moment on his next hot lap.

Perez then had the opportunity to extend his advantage and duly did so with a 1m29.127s, going fastest in the opening pair of sectors to sit 0.45s up on his previous best before missing the apex in the final turn.

Alonso fired his Aston Martin up to third for a brief spell, until Hamilton moved ahead of his 2007 McLaren team-mate moments later, preceding Verstappen's first run of the session on softs.

The Dutchman ticked off all three sectors, dousing the timing board in purple to post a 1m28.756s to sit 0.371s clear of Perez.

Stroll had a tilt on new softs, but couldn't even break within three-quarters of a second of Verstappen - who was going even quicker in the meantime and raised the bar with a 1m28.660s after a cool-down lap.

The double world champion spooled up for another run, improving his opening and final sectors even further to grab his ultimate 1m28.485s benchmark.

Alonso leapfrogged Stroll to go third fastest, albeit nearly a full second away from Verstappen's best, while Hamilton occupied fifth overall.

Ferrari languished at the bottom of the timesheets through most of the session, having focused on the medium tyre early on, but Charles Leclerc's late lap on the softs was good enough for sixth overall.

McLaren duo Lando Norris and Piastri were separated by just 0.008s in seventh and eighth spots, while Gasly's early promise could only convert into the ninth-fastest time.

Carlos Sainz, like Leclerc, went for his best lap late on to break into the top 10, moving ahead of Russell moments before the chequered flag.

Nyck de Vries did not take part in the session following an engine change, and the AlphaTauri team did not have his car ready to go in the session.

The Italian squad propped up the order as Yuki Tsunoda was slowest - albeit having only used the medium compound throughout the session, and the Japanese also copped a black-and-white flag for failing to follow race directors' instructions. Alonso also picked up the same warning.


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