F1 – Verstappen stretches forward in final practice in Saudi Arabia as Pérez finishes second ahead of Alonso

F1 – Verstappen stretches forward in final practice in Saudi Arabia as Pérez finishes second ahead of Alonso

Max Verstappen set the fastest practice laps cleanly as the Dutchman finished first in final practice for the 2023 FIA Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, and an ominous six-tenths of a second clear of Red Bull team-mate Sergio Pérez to finish just under a second ahead of third-placed Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin.

In daylight and higher temperatures than expected in qualifying, the session got off to a slow start and the first really representative time was only set after 10 minutes. That came from McLaren rookie Oscar Piastri, who clocked a time of 1:32.531.

The Australian was then pursued by a group of riders around the track and Alpine’s Pierre Gasly became the new pacesetter with a lap of 1’30.718s, ridden on soft compound Pirelli tyres. However, Verstappen was already making his mark, finishing second behind his former teammate, just 0.006 off the pace but on hard tyres.

After a quarter of the session, Mercedes’ George Russell took the lead on soft tires with a lap of 1:30.476, just 0.016s ahead of his teammate Lewis Hamilton, who was running on the same compound. However, Gasly wasn’t finished and the Frenchman jumped back to P1 with a lap of 1:30.161.

The Alpine rider’s return to P1 was brief, however, as Verstappen then made a seemingly effortless step forward with a 1:29.882 lap to edge out the Alpine rider.

Finally, after 23 minutes, Pérez went furiously on soft tires for his first laps and the Mexican immediately jumped to the top of the order with a 1’29.417 lap, 0.329s quicker than his team-mate albeit on different rubber. Verstappen, still running on hard tyres, then lowered his personal best to 1:29.549 before retiring to the garage to prepare for his runs on soft tyres.

Gasly also improved and finished third with a lap of 1:29.701. Hamilton was also on track and finished fourth with a lap of 1:29.819.

The switch to performance runs was then made and Pérez duly moved to the front of the order as he went purple in all three sectors to set a new best of 1:29.127.

Further down Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg was fifth with a 1’29.933, just ahead of Piastri, who set a good 1’30.029 and finished sixth ahead of Russell.

After running the first part of the session on hard tyres, Aston Martin then showed their skills on soft tyres. Alonso jumped to third place with a 1:29.568, with teammate Lance Stroll in fifth. Hamilton then put in another lap, relegating Alonso to fourth thanks to a lap of 1:29.568.

Verstappen then returned to the track, wasting no time blowing his opponents away with his first few laps on softs. The Dutchman finished first with a time of 1:28.756, three tenths ahead of Pérez. The championship leader then drove another lap and improved his best time to 1:28.660.

Alonso then used a second flyer of 1’29.483 to reclaim third place, despite being eight tenths behind Verstappen, who then picked up speed again and posted purple times in S1 and S3 to set a time of 1’28.485.

Ferrari were one of the last teams to send their drivers on soft tires and on their opening laps the best Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz could do were P10 and P11 respectively. When the checkered flag was shown the pair went again and this time Leclerc fought his way up to sixth behind Hamilton while Sainz improved to P10 behind Gasly.

Elsewhere, there were problems for Nyck de Vries. The Dutch driver was forced to sit out the session as an issue found on his car forced AlphaTauri to completely change the power unit.

2023 FIA Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – Free Practice 3rd
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Honda RBPT 1:28.485 20 251.188
2 Sergio Perez Red Bull/Honda RBPT 1:29.098 0.613 15 249.460
3 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin/Mercedes 1:29.483 0.998 21 248.386
4 Lance Stroll Aston Martin/Mercedes 1:29.509 1.024 21 248.314
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:29,568 1,083 18 248,151
6 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:29,588 1,103 16 248,095
7 Lando Norris McLaren/Mercedes 1:29,690 1,205 18 247,813
8 Oscar Piastri McLaren/Mercedes 1:29,698 1,213 23 247,791
9 Pierre Gasly Alpine/Renault 1:29.701 1.216 19 247.783
10 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:29.761 1.276 16 247.617
11 George Russell Mercedes 1:29,811 1,326 19 247,479
12 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1:29,917 1,432 21 247,187
13 Nico Hulkenberg Haas/Ferrari 1:29.933 1.448 19 247.143
14 Esteban Ocon Alpine/Renault 1:29.953 1.468 19 247.089
15 Alexander Albon Williams/Mercedes 1:29,983 1,498 18 247,006
16 Logan Sargeant Williams/Mercedes 1:30.035 1.550 18 246.863
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 1:30.131 1.646 15 246.601
18 Valtteri Botta’s Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1:30.317 1.832 20 246.093
19 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri/Honda RBPT 1:30.797 2.312 20 244.792


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