Leclerc snatches FP3 headline time from Verstappen, Sainz

Leclerc snatches FP3 headline time from Verstappen, Sainz

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Only moments before, Verstappen had pipped Carlos Sainz by 0.057s as the Ferrari driver spent much of the hour on top owing to his performance on the medium tyre earlier on in the session.

An interesting thread within FP3 concerned the rapid degradation of the soft tyres over a single lap, and impressive first sectors for those trying the red-walled C5 often were unable to retain that level of performance throughout the final two splits.

Towards the end of the session, the teams started to crack that problem and both Lewis Hamilton and Oscar Piastri vaulted into the top four on later soft-tyre runs. George Russell later joined the pair in the upper echelons on his own soft run in the final 10 minutes, as the improvements started to threaten the medium-tyre times of the Ferraris and Red Bulls.

Early braking concerns had hit the Red Bulls as they blinked first in making more concerted runs through FP3, and although these were ironed out after their initial runs on the medium compound, both Verstappen and Sergio Perez were outclassed by the Ferraris on the C4 boots.

Verstappen, however, could not find much in the way of performance in his first tilt at a time with the softs, bettering none of the sectors that he had produced on the mediums. This proved to be the case for Sainz too; despite setting a session-best opening sector, the Spaniard could not maintain that momentum beyond Turn 6 and was half a tenth shy of his medium-tyre best.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Hamilton drew close to Sainz’s 1m16.791s, set in the first half of the session on mediums, but the drop off in the higher-speed corners seemed to continue; Verstappen stated that the tyres tended to move around a lot more in the high-speed corners.

But they seemed to come to the drivers with extended running, and this allowed Verstappen to punch in a 1m16.734s after the chequered flag to demonstrate that the soft tyres had value in qualifying.

Before he could celebrate his headline time, Leclerc posted a 1m16.714s at the very end to move up to the top of the pile, ensuring the top four were all within 0.1s. Sainz remained third overall having been unable to improve on the soft tyres.

Hamilton endured a frustrating time during the early runs, his dismay at losing a considerable chunk of time in the straights relative to the Ferraris evident over the radio, but improved into the top six despite clipping the gravel on the exit of Turn 11 as Mercedes found more time. 

The Mercedes seemed to dial itself into the session, and continued soft tyre running brought Hamilton a time that was ultimately good enough for fourth overall – 0.08s clear of team-mate Russell. 

Fernando Alonso improved to sixth on his final lap of the session, having been behind team-mate Lance Stroll after his penultimate effort on the softs, which carried him above Sergio Perez’s Red Bull.

Piastri, Stroll, and Lando Norris completed the top 10, as the McLarens did not improve during the final flurry of positional changes as the soft tyres started to produce performance gains.

Yuki Tsunoda and Valtteri Bottas were 11th and 12th ahead of Alex Albon, who had assumed control of Logan Sargeant’s car for the rest of the weekend, leaving the American on the sidelines. Sargeant will take no further part in the weekend, as Williams does not have a spare tub to build up.

FP3 results:

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