Abu Dhabi GP: George Russell capitalises on Max Verstappen’s problems to top FP3

Michelle Foster
Mercedes driver George Russell exits the pits at that Abu Dhabi circuit.

George Russell in action for Mercedes.

George Russell claimed the final practice P1 of the 2023 championship as Max Verstappen struggled with a “jumping” RB19 around the Yas Marina circuit.

Russell showed good place in Saturday’s final practice as he laid down a 1:24.418 to beat the McLaren teammates.

The trio took advantage of Verstappen’s troubles as the reigning World Champion finished down in sixth place having gone through no fewer than four set-up changes as he remained unhappy with the balance of his RB19 that was “bottoming” and “jumping”.

George Russell sets the pace in Abu Dhabi

After Friday’s interrupted running, Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz in his rebuilt SF-23 didn’t waste any time getting into their programmes with the Ferrari driver 0.003s up on the Briton.

They were blitzed by Sergio Perez as the Red Bull driver crossed the line with a 1:25.4 with half the field posting times within the first 10 minutes of play. Lando Norris was second in the early running ahead of Lance Stroll.

Running the medium tyres, Charles Leclerc went fifth fastest on his first flying lap but he was 0.6s down on Perez’s soft tyre P1 time. Sainz dropped to ninth.

Despite a moment for George Russell as he was bothered by a tail wind at the final corner, he overhauled Perez with a 1:25.1. Verstappen was only fifth after his first three-lap run, prompting the Red Bull driver to head back into the pits.

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Back on track after a few tweaks to his RB19, Verstappen improved to second place but was still half a second down on Russell. Perez was fourth with Oscar Piastri splitting the Red Bulls.

The Aston Martins were next in line as everyone barring the Ferraris put in a soft tyres run. Leclerc and Sainz, focusing on race pace, were down in 16th and 17th places.

There a brief lull when the drivers returned to the pits for final tweaks and a new set of soft tyres before the qualifying simulations began. For Verstappen, it marked a third set-up change with the Dutchman unhappy with his RB19.

Williams kicked off the quick laps with Alex Albon up to second and Logan Sargeant P4. They, however, began to drop down the order as Norris went P2 despite a leery moment at the final corner and Piastri third.

Verstappen gave up on his flying lap after five corners having snapped, understeered and run wide. “The car is again bottoming, jumping. I don’t know what is going on,” he told Red Bull.

Russell upped his pace to a 1:24.4 with Norris 0.095s down. Ferrari weren’t able to make the gains they expected as Leclerc went fifth, Sainz though stayed down in 20th place.

Leaving the pits with three minutes to go, Verstappen improved to sixth place but was a whopping seven-tenths down on Russell’s P1 time.

Timesheet

1 George RUSSELL Mercedes 1:24.418
2 Lando NORRIS McLaren +0.095
3 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +0.392
4 Alexander ALBON Williams +0.511
5 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.681
6 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing +0.735
7 Esteban OCON Alpine +0.776
8 Logan SARGEANT Williams +0.787
9 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +0.804
10 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +0.840
11 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.841
12 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.874
13 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.885
14 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.925
15 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.987
16 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +1.002
17 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +1.166
18 Daniel RICCIARDO AlphaTauri +1.179
19 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +1.234
20 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +1.295

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