FP3: George Russell heads comfortable Mercedes one-two ahead of qualifying

Henry Valantine
George Russell and Lewis Hamilton in FP3. Mexico October 2022.

Both Mercedes drivers run close together during their free practice programmes. Mexico October 2022.

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton went quickest in FP3 in Mexico City with only Max Verstappen able to lap within half a second of the Mercedes drivers.

The Mercedes duo had both been optimistic after a strong showing on Friday and their potential appeared to be backed up as they comfortably topped FP3 between the two of them.

Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz rounded out the top six but barring significant changes in fortune and set-up, Mercedes looked like the team to beat on that showing.

As had been the case in Austin last time out, Friday practice took a different structure to usual as FP2 was reserved mostly for Pirelli to run prototype compounds for their 2023 tyres.

FP3 saw a return to normal though as the drivers made their final preparations for qualifying.

The field gradually emerged as some drivers put on soft tyres for qualifying simulation runs, and it was Mercedes and Ferrari who led the way early on.

Sainz and Leclerc had been close together on their first run, but Russell gazumped them comfortably with a weekend-quickest 1:19.405, showing his confidence early in FP3 while Hamilton ran too deep and could not get to within a second of his team-mate.

Mick Schumacher, whose future has still yet to be decided, ruined a set of soft tyres on his first attempt, taking too much of the inside kerb at Turn 11 and spinning himself around, flat-spotting all four tyres as he caused a snap of oversteer.

The Mexico City layout, the third shortest of the season, could cause a couple of traffic jams in qualifying and Sainz took issue with Valtteri Bottas not getting out of the way quickly enough for his liking while on a lap in FP3, drawing alongside the Alfa Romeo and raising his hand out of his cockpit in frustration.

It was more than 20 minutes before Verstappen showed his hand, being unable to run properly – but that did not hinder him from getting straight out on track and going fastest with his first flying lap, nipping in 0.109s faster than Russell and still complaining of a less-than-optimal first sector.

The Red Bull driver quickly put that right by setting a ‘purple’ first sector on his next flying run, knocking off a further tenth as he notched a 1:19.118 to extend his advantage.

Halfway through the session it was very much Verstappen, Russell and then the rest as the Dutchman sat three-quarters of a second ahead of his team-mate and home hero Perez in third, with some opting to run medium tyres and focus on race pace and others looking at single-lap speed.

Mercedes have generally been faster on Sundays than Saturdays so far this season, so it perhaps made sense that both drivers were sent out on fresh soft tyres with around 20 minutes to go for another lap, Russell and Hamilton taking out a big chunk of time – Russell’s 1:18.399 more than seven tenths faster than Verstappen’s previous best – although the rest of the field were still yet to come.

But neither Red Bull driver could get close to the Mercedes pair in response, Verstappen only closing by a couple of tenths and a lock-up for Perez into the Foro Sol stadium section cost him time.

The Ferrari drivers swapped back to soft tyres and had a go at faster times of their own, but Leclerc and Sainz could only go either side of Perez in fourth and sixth – Leclerc seven tenths down on Russell’s benchmark.

Hamilton and Russell had both enthused about their team’s chances after a productive Friday and while Hamilton acknowledged Mercedes have had their hopes up before only to receive a “slap in the face” from the W13, the signs are there that they could compete in qualifying – and possibly even for race victory.

FP3 classification

1 George RUSSELL Mercedes 1:18.399
2 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.144
3 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing +0.477
4 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.724
5 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.842
6 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.902
7 Lando NORRIS McLaren +0.918
8 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +0.991
9 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +1.483
10 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.518
11 Esteban OCON Alpine +1.561
12 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +1.620
13 Fernando ALONSO Alpine +1.638
14 Daniel RICCIARDO McLaren +1.740
15 Pierre GASLY AlphaTauri +1.931
16 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +2.078
17 Mick SCHUMACHER Haas F1 Team +2.199
18 Nicholas LATIFI Williams +2.449
19 Sebastian VETTEL Aston Martin +2.587
20 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +2.872

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