Spanish GP: Max Verstappen tops FP3 as Red Bull throws in the Gauntlet.

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Max Verstappen of Red Bull topped Saturday’s free practice three, 0.235s ahead of Championship rival Lewis Hamilton, and Charles Leclerc cements Ferrari’s bid for a podium finish this weekend with a second third-place finish in three sessions.

Yesterday’s practice sessions saw Valtteri Bottas top the time charts in FP1, Lewis Hamilton returned the favor in FP2, and Max Verstappen was there or thereabouts on the medium compound tyres. Still, a mistake on his flying lap and heavy traffic knocked him down the order when he went for the soft compound tyres. 

The session started relatively quietly compared to the previous sessions as Fernando Alonso was the first driver to come out onto the track in the fifth minute and duly set the first official lap time of the session of 1m 21.020s on the medium compound tyres.

As Alonso went for another flying lap, out came the Red Bull of Sergio Pérez and the McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo. The three cars on track were symbolic that these drivers came into the season with a lot of expectations and so far had failed to deliver heading into their fourth Qualifying session of the season.

The Alfa Romeo‘s were the first to put on the soft compounds tyres in this last practice session. Kimi Räikönen set the fastest lap so far at 1m 19.732s but was soon dislodged from the top by his teammate Antonio Giovinazzi with a 1m 19.368s. The clock hit the 20 minutes mark, as Charles Leclerc went to the top of the timesheet with a 1m 18.997s. 

Bottas finally came out by the 23rd minute, followed by Max Verstappen, while Lewis Hamilton was the last to leave the pits as he put on a brand new set of soft compound tyres. Bottas went quickest with a 1m 18.423s on the softs as Verstappen came up behind him in second with a 1m 18.630s on the medium compound tyres. Hamilton came around half a minute later and blitzed Bottas’s time by one-tenth of a second.

By the halfway stage of the session, Hamilton led from Bottas, with Verstappen, Leclerc, and Sainz completing the Top 5. 

Giovanazzi, Gasly, Perez, Russell, and Norris rounded off the Top 10 as the drivers from seventh to sixteenth were separated by only three-tenths of a second.

Hamilton came out again after a few tweaks in the garage and was immediately on it. The British driver set the fastest Sector 2 and Sector 3 times en route to bettering his previous best with a 1m 18.117s. Bottas wasn’t far behind his teammate, but both the Mercedes drivers failed to nail the exit of Turn 13 and lost valuable time in the final sector. 

With only 20 minutes remaining before the end of the session, both the Ferrari drivers came out on brand new soft compound tyres. Any doubts about Ferrari’s genuine pace this weekend were answered as Leclerc jumped to second with a 1m 18.308s while Sainz planted himself in third just 0.102s off Leclerc’s time.

Lando Norris ran off into the gravel at Turn 10 when he missed the breaking point, and the rear of his car snapped off, throwing him into the gravel. He managed to keep his engine going and eventually made it out of the tough spot. As Lewis topped the table, followed by both the Ferrari’s ahead of the other Mercedes of Bottas, Max Verstappen made his way out of the pitlane on a brand new set of soft compound tyres.

Verstappen matched Kimi’s fastest first sector time with a 21.9 before obliterating Hamilton’s fastest Sector 2 time with a 29.0 as he went 0.433s clear of Hamilton’s time after the first two sectors. But a touch of oversteer coming out of Turn 13 cost him a bit of time though it was still good enough to take him to the top of the timesheet with a 1m 17.835s; 0.235s faster than Hamilton’s time.

As the session concluded, it was Max from Hamilton, then the two Ferraris and Bottas in the Top 5. Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo had a confidence-boosting session with sixth and eighth, respectively. Pierre Gasly continued his good work from Friday practice with a seventh-place while Kimi’s early lap was still good enough to keep him in ninth ahead of Sergio Pérez, who had another poor outing this morning. 

Fernando Alonso, Yuki Tsunoda, and Esteban Ocon were all within one second of Verstappen’s time. It shows how tight the midfield battle is going to be. Lance Stroll and George Russell completed the Top 15. While Giovinazzi, Vettel, Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin rounded off the standings. 

Written By
Rahul Saha

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