FP3: Leclerc lays down a marker ahead of qualy

Michelle Foster


Charles Leclerc was the man to beat in final practice for the Russian GP as Daniil Kvyat must have been wondering what he has to do to catch a break.

Despite predictions of rain, Saturday’s final practice for the Russian Grand Prix got underway on a dry Sochi Autodrom with several drivers – including Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – hoping to find a better set-up.

Daniil Kvyat must have been wondering what he has to do to catch a break, reporting “a very strong noise when I’m downshifting”. The Russian driver will start his home race from the back of the grid as he is already facing a grid penalty for changing engine components.

Alexander Albon in the Red Bull got the ball rolling with a 1:37.881. He lowered that to a 1:35.843, the only driver to set lap times in the opening 10 minutes.

As the other 19 drivers finally began their day’s work, the benchmark time began to fall.

Lando Norris took over at the top while mistakes through the final two corners meant Valtteri Bottas only managed P2 on his opening ran.

Ferrari made it a 1-2 20 minutes in as Charles Leclerc clocked a 1:34.147 to edge Vettel by 0.3s while Kvyat’s session went from bad to worse as he stopped out on track, parking his STR14 just after Turn 1.

“Engine, engine, I have an engine problem,” said the Russian racer.

Honda later confirmed that his STR14 required a new engine and that the driver would not take part in qualifying.

Ferrari continued to set the pace with Leclerc clocking a 1:33.906, lining up ahead of Max Verstappen – one of five drivers facing a penalty for changing engine components, Vettel and Bottas.

Nico Hulkenberg and Lewis Hamilton were P5 and six at the halfway stage with the latter asking “are we still 1.1 behind on time?” Told yes, he replied: “I don’t know where we find that time…”

But while Hamilton was struggling, Bottas improved to second place, 0.171s down on Leclerc’s P1 time.

After a slight lull in proceedings Leclerc returned to the track on a fresh set of soft tyres and laid down a 1:32.861.

Leclerc tried two cool down laps before going again, a similar move that Hamilton pulled earlier, and upped his pace to a 1:32.733.

Vettel responded with a 1:33.049, finishing ahead of Hamilton and Bottas. The Mercedes drivers were 0.4 and 0.6s off the pace.

Verstappen finished fifth fastest having aborted his final run after taking off over the kerbs. He then spun and tagged the barrier before heading back to the Red Bull garage.

“I think I just scratched the outside barrier,” was his assessment.

Romain Grosjean put in a late run to go sixth quickest ahead of Albon, Hulkenberg, Lando Norris and Kevin Magnussen.

1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:32.733
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 0.316s
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.396s
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 0.621s
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1.494s
6 Romain Grosjean Haas 1.575s
7 Alex Albon Red Bull 1.638s
8 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1.688s
9 Lando Norris McLaren 1.794s
10 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1.813s
11 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1.831s
12 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1.853s
13 Carlos Sainz McLaren 1.874s 18
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 2.033s
15 Sergio Perez Racing Point 2.127s
16 Lance Stroll Racing Point 2.165s
17 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 2.981s
18 George Russell Williams 3.278s
19 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 3.348s
20 Robert Kubica Williams 4.209s

Follow all the action from the Russian Grand Prix with the PlanetF1 live centre