Australian GP: Charles Leclerc quickest in FP3 as Carlos Sainz silences fitness questions

Michelle Foster
Charles Leclerc sparks on track in Melbourne.

Charles Leclerc set the pace in FP3 for the Australian GP.

Charles Leclerc set the pace in final practice for the Australian Grand Prix with Ferrari looking on course to fight Red Bull for pole position later today.

But in a session in which the top seven were separated by three-tenths of a second, and many of the drivers struggled to get their soft tyres to work, it’s anyone’s guess who’ll take pole position.

Charles Leclerc pips Max Verstappen in final practice

Only 19 drivers prepared to take to the track for the start of FP3 in Melbourne with Logan Sargeant ruled out of the action after Williams controversially handed his car to Alex Albon following the latter’s FP1 shunt.

While Sargeant watched on from the pit wall, there was no sight of Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes garage as his team were still working on his W15 as they made major set-up changes after the British’s wretched Friday.

Red Bull took advantage of the quiet track to run by themselves with Sergio Perez P1 with a 1:19.2. Max Verstappen complained his brakes were “not biting” only to take P1 off his team-mate by six-tenths of a second.

Perez too complained about his brakes, and he too went quickest with the benchmark down to a 1:17.9. Verstappen responded with a 1:17.1 before heading back in the pits after a seven-lap run.

Ferrari joined the action with Carlos Sainz third ahead of Charles Leclerc with the Mercedes team-mates and Albon also venturing out. They, however, were the only seven drivers to set lap times in the first 20 minutes.

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Told of his deficit to Verstappen on the main straight, a flabbergasted Hamilton replied: “1.1, in a straight line!” He was eighth with George Russell sixth fastest.

Sainz replaced the Red Bull team-mates up in P1 with a 1:16.7, putting him three-tenths up on Verstappen as Fernando Alonso became the 19th and final driver to set a time. He first flying lap putting the Aston Martin driver P13 on the timesheet.

Leclerc made it a Ferrari 1-2 and complained about traffic – “There’s one thing that’s certain, you get an Aston Martin on the track” – while Russell improved to fifth place and Hamilton, sixth.

The traditional late-session soft tyre run, Pirelli having brought their very softest tyres, the C5, saw Albon complain that his “rears are totally gone by Turn 9” already on his flying lap.

Oscar Piastri was the first to make notable gains on his qualy sim as he mixed it up between the Ferraris and Red Bulls. But with most of the drivers having similar tyre-life issue to Albon, when all was said and done it was Sainz’s medium tyre time of 1:16.791 that looked set to stand as the one to beat.

That’s until Leclerc and Verstappen, on their second flying laps, edged ahead. Leclerc was P1 with a a 1:16.714, 0.020s up on Verstappen with Sainz 0.077s down.

Australian Grand Prix 2024: FP3 times

1 Charles LECLERC 1:16.714
2 Max VERSTAPPEN +0.020
3 Carlos SAINZ +0.077
4 Lewis HAMILTON +0.092
5 George RUSSELL +0.172
6 Fernando ALONSO +0.283
7 Sergio PEREZ +0.300
8 Oscar PIASTRI +0.373
9 Lance STROLL +0.627
10 Lando NORRIS +0.776
11 Yuki TSUNODA +0.959
12 Valtteri BOTTAS +1.038
13 Alexander ALBON +1.045
14 Guanyu ZHOU +1.162
15 Esteban OCON +1.206
16 Nico HULKENBERG +1.227
17 Kevin MAGNUSSEN +1.247
18 Daniel RICCIARDO +1.249
19 Pierre GASLY +1.67

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