Aus GP FP3: Max Verstappen quickest of all while Sergio Perez supplies the drama
Max Verstappen was back up into P1 in the final practice for the Australian GP weekend with his team-mate Sergio Perez providing most of the session’s traffic and off-track excursion drama.
Despite a 40 percent chance of rain, and the teams wanting to rebound from an interrupted Friday, there were still boards up in front of Perez’s side of the garage as the light went green to signal the start of final practice at the Albert Park circuit.
Lance Stroll, still recovering from his pre-season injuries, was the first driver out of he pits but came back in after just one lap leaving it to Verstappen to sit P1 with a 1:19.6 on the medium tyres.
That was beaten by the Ferraris, both Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc out on the softs, and going 1-2. Verstappen upped his pace and Leclerc did the same, the P1 time down to a 1:18.7 after 15 minutes.
Kevin Magnussen continued his grass-cutting antics from Friday as he went off at Turn 11 while traffic was again a problem with George Russell tripping over Stroll. “Wow that was dangerous from the Aston,” said the Mercedes driver.
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Sainz was the next up into P1 with Fernando Alonso second ahead of Leclerc and Verstappen. While the Dutchman moved onto his seventh lap of the session, his team-mate Perez – already worried on Friday he would be a “little bit blind” in Sunday’s race – was stuck in the pits as his mechanics worked on his RB19.
Perez ventured out with 40-minutes on the clock and his very first flying lap involved a near-miss with Nico Hulkenberg who closed the door on the Mexican driver. “Why did you put me in this gap?” Perez asked. Response: “I didn’t realise he was on high fuel.”
Russell, down in 11th place, asked Mercedes to check the “ride-height as we have more bottoming into Three, well everywhere.” His team-mate Lewis Hamilton was P7 with the Mercedes drivers running the soft tyres.
Back at the front Pierre Gasly improved to third place with his team-mate Esteban Ocon up to fifth. Another team on the move was Williams with Alex Albon seventh and his rookie team-mate Logan Sargeant P10. Another off and then a lock-up saw Magnussen just manage to keep his Haas out of the wall before heading back into the pits.
The session was briefly red flagged due to debris on the track at Turn 9, a piece of Nyck de Vries’ AlphaTauri. After a breather the drivers were back into the action, moving from race pace to qualifying simulations. One driver who wasn’t going to join the action was Lando Norris as he was in the pits, out of the car, and his MCL60 was in pieces.
Sainz upped his place to a 1:18.1 with Hamilton up to second and Russell third and Perez off the track. Alonso, despite being fastest in the middle sector, didn’t improve on his forth. Zhou Guanyu jumped up to fifth and then lost his Alfa Romeo at the exit of Turn 2 on his second flying lap. He told the team: “Sorry about that, but the car should be all good.”
Alonso went faster but Verstappen went fastest, a 1:17.565 for the reigning World Champion. His team-mate Perez went flying off the circuit to ruin his hot lap, Sargeant had traffic in the form of Hamilton, Ocon jumped up to third ahead of Russell, and a few drops of rain began to fall.
And, no surprise here, the session ended with another off for Perez as he took a trip through the gravel only for the driver to enter the pits and then try leave but run out of time, stopping at the end of the pit lane.
The session ended with Verstappen quickest of all ahead of Alonso and Ocon while neither Ferrari driver did a soft tyre qualy run.
Sainz went off into the gravel on his post-race session practice start lap while Oscar Piastri was noted by the stewards for a practice start infringement.
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing 1:17.565
2 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.162
3 Esteban OCON Alpine +0.373
4 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.390
5 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.529
6 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.558
7 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.562
8 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.573
9 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.633
10 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +0.765
11 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +0.845
12 Alexander ALBON Williams +0.988
13 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +1.126
14 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +1.148
15 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +1.244
16 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +1.336
17 Logan SARGEANT Williams +1.382
18 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +1.491
19 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +1.527
20 Lando NORRIS McLaren +1.581