FP3: Perez tops timesheet with Mercedes way off pace

Mark Scott
Sergio Perez tops FP3 at Mexican Grand Prix. Mexico City November 2021

Red Bull's Sergio Perez tops FP3 at Mexican Grand Prix. Mexico City November 2021

Red Bull appear to be strong favourites for pole position at the Mexican Grand Prix with Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen both well clear of the Mercedes cars in FP3.

Perez topped the timesheet with a 1:17.024, nearly two tenths quicker than World Championship leader and team-mate Max Verstappen, while there was a huge six-tenth gap to both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas respectively.

Before FP3 got under way at a sunny Mexico City circuit, there was some doom and gloom concerning Williams’ George Russell and McLaren’s Lando Norris. The former has a five-place grid drop to overcome after a new gearbox was fitted to his car, while Norris will join Lance Stroll, Esteban Ocon and Yuki Tsunoda at the back of the grid due to engine penalties.

With the admin out of the way, it was time to turn attention back to the track…but there was no real urgency to head out there on what was still a very dusty track. Twenty five minutes into the one-hour session, there were just six timed laps on the board.

Thankfully for the fans watching on TV and those packing out the grandstands, the action finally began to hot up in the second half of the session. At the halfway point, it was Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc who was leading the way with a 1:18.213 – but that was as a result of track conditions improving all the time rather than the Scuderia finding lots of extra pace overnight.

That benchmark was soon surpassed by Verstappen on his first timed lap of the day who, despite being a bit scruffy through Turn 12, still managed to open up a near four-tenth gap to home favourite and team-mate Perez.

Bottas then went quickest through the first sector but could only narrow the gap to Verstappen to 0.171 seconds on his latest hot lap.

Verstappen stayed out for a second attack lap and promptly restored the four-tenth gap with a 1:17.217, going a tenth quicker than the best time he had set at the top of the FP2 timesheet on Friday afternoon.

Hamilton did not throw down his first qualifying simulation lap until the final 15 minutes of the session and, even then, it was not a very threatening one as he was a rather chunky six tenths down in P3.

Perez, though, was looking very competitive. Even with traffic to negotiate through sector two, he still managed to go within +0.055s of his team-mate. The Mexican recharged the batteries and went for another attempt, and went purple through the middle and final sectors to knock Verstappen off top spot by two tenths.

Verstappen geared up for one final attempt himself, but could not find any improvement after complaining of a real lack of grip.

In amongst the final laps, there was confirmation of yet another engine penalty with Ocon the latest driver to have a new power unit fitted.

FP3 timesheet

All best times set on soft tyres

1 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:17.024 15 laps
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull 0.193s 12
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 0.684s 17
4 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1.005s 20
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.651s 14
6 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1.013s 25
7 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1.097s 15
8 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1.178s 18
9 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1.189s 20
10 Lando Norris McLaren 1.288s 16
11 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1.328s 20
12 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 1.507s 22
13 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 1.532s 19
14 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1.590s 17
15 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1.823s 15
16 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1.975s 16
17 George Russell Williams 2.187s 19
18 Mick Schumacher Haas 2.214s 14
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas 3.455s 15
20 Nicholas Latifi Williams 2.289s 12