Spanish F1 GP, FP3: Charles Leclerc beats Max Verstappen and Mercedes enters the discussion

Charles Leclerc was again the fastest, this time in the final free practice of the Spanish GP. The Monegasque Ferrari driver set his best time in 1:19.772s, with Max Verstappen at 0.072s. Mercedes could be in contention for the top grid spots in the final qualifying session, with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finishing third and fourth respectively. Carlos Sainz and Sergio Pérez followed.

Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen remain very fast and will perhaps be the main protagonists of the next qualifying session. Carlos Sainz, slower since the second free practice – he complained about it yesterday – has once again moved away from the leading drivers, as well as Sergio Pérez who has not yet shown a very strong pace in Spain.
In the opposite direction are the two Mercedes drivers. Until the final stages of free practice, it looked like the Mercedes cars were slower than yesterday, until George Russell and Lewis Hamilton jumped to the top spots, ahead of Sainz and Pérez. It’s true that Sainz was in sim racing at the time and no longer did a fast lap, but Mercedes can be counted on to be among the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers. Fighting for pole position seems premature, but it won’t be surprising if they get a place or two on the second row of the starting grid.

Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo’s progress can be somewhat misleading, as they both spent much of their training in race simulation and only worked on qualifying for the final. The last sector seems to be the most difficult for the McLaren drivers, as this is where they lost the most time. However, Norris appears to continue to be faster than Ricciardo, who was only 11th fastest while the Briton was seventh.
With brake issues on Mick Schumacher’s Haas – which caused him to miss most of the practice session – Kevin Magnussen was the fastest in the team, being the eighth-fastest driver behind the wheel of a single-seater without any improvement. The Dane’s pace in the Haas VF-22 continues to be impressive.
Valtteri Bottas was a little disappointed in training, as he only set the ninth fastest time in the session, when it seemed yesterday, in training 1, that he had more pace. He was followed by Esteban Ocon, he beat his teammate’s time.
High point for the Aston Martin which did not enter the top 10, but worked on the race simulation, being one of the few cars to have tried the hardest Pirelli tire compound of the session. Still, for a car so different and with so many upgrades, we expected more.

Session movie:
Lando Norris, after being absent for most of the second free practice, took to the track on medium tyres, being the only one with this compound among the few drivers on the track in the first moments of practice.
Pierre Gasly only completed the setup lap and returned to the pits, with smoke coming out of the rear of the AlphaTauri AT03.
The only driver to have fitted soft tires on the track during the first ten minutes of testing was Valtteri Bottas who also lost almost all of the previous session. On soft tyres, he was the Finn leading the timesheet with a time of 1:21.326, leaving Kevin Magnussen more than 1.5s behind.
With less than 15 minutes up, Mick Schumacher warned the team that the right rear brake was on fire, having trouble stopping in front of the pit, and the flames coming out of VF-22 were quickly extinguished.
Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso, also on soft tyres, was 0.449s off Bottas’ record but was quicker than the Finn in the first sector.
With more cars fitted with Pirelli’s soft compound, Carlos Sainz took the lead in the timesheets (1:20.484s), but Charles Leclerc bettered his teammate’s record with a time of 1:20.278s.
Between the two Mercedes drivers, who gave good indications yesterday, George Russell returned to the top of the timesheets, signing the third best record, just over 20 minutes after the start of the session, 0.8 s from Leclerc’s start time, while Lewis Hamilton was unable to open the DRS and obviously finish his lap more slowly.
Without Max Verstappen on track, Ferrari led the free practice session – with Leclerc ahead of Sainz, followed by Russell, Bottas and Esteban Ocon. When the Dutchman took to the track, Sergio Pérez completed a fast lap and moved into third place, 0.263 seconds off Leclerc’s time. When Verstappen completes his first attempt at a fast lap, he climbs straight into second place, 0.197s behind the Monegasque and championship leader.
With the DRS problem resolved, Hamilton returned to the track to improve his record, but still behind his team-mate, more than 0.8s off Leclerc’s time. Kevin Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas were between the Red Bulls and the two Mercedes.
Going into the final 25 minutes of practice, both Ferrari drivers improved their times, maintaining the order they had previously, but with Leclerc setting a time of 1:19.772.
Without the Ferrari and Red Bull cars, plus Lewis Hamilton, on track, George Russell set the second fastest time with less than 20 minutes to go in the session. The Briton was 0.148 seconds off Leclerc’s time.
Hamilton and Verstappen returned to the track on fresh soft tires with less than 10 minutes to go to improve their times. Lewis Hamilton was the first to complete the lap and lost time in the final sector – two tenths – to finish behind George Russell, showing that Mercedes are even closer.
Max Verstappen was next to finish and was just 0.072 seconds behind Leclerc with the second fastest time. Sergio Perez was only sixth, but the top six were less than half a second clear.
Lando Norris, who had yet to attempt a lap on the soft tyres, managed to move up to seventh, 0.631 seconds off Leclerc’s time, but with a poor third sector.
While some drivers recorded a fast lap at the end of the session, in particular because they were working on a race simulation, the two Ferrari drivers had mounted soft tires but were driving a lot of laps. Similar work to what Pérez did yesterday.

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