Spanish F1 GP, FP3: Charles Leclerc beats Max Verstappen and brings Mercedes into discussion

Charles Leclerc was fastest again, this time in the last Spanish Grand Prix free practice. The Monegasque Ferrari driver set his best time of 1:19.772sec, trailing Max Verstappen by 0.072sec. Mercedes could be in contention for the top spots on the starting grid in the subsequent qualifying session, with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finishing third and fourth, respectively. They were followed by Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez.

Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen remain very fast and may be the main champions in the qualifying session soon. Carlos Sainz, who has been slower since second free practice – complained about it yesterday – was again far from the riders in front, as was Sergio Perez who hasn’t shown a very strong pace in Spain yet.
In the opposite direction are two Mercedes drivers. Until the final stages of the free practice session, the Mercedes cars seemed to be slower than yesterday, until George Russell and Lewis Hamilton jumped ahead of Sainz and Perez. It’s true Sainz was in a simulator race at the time and never did a fast lap again, but we can count on Mercedes to be among the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers. The fight for first place seems premature, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they get a seat or two in the second row of the starting grid.

Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo’s progress may be somewhat misleading, as they spent much of their training in racing simulations and only worked on qualifying in the finals. The latter sector appears to be the most challenging for the McLaren drivers, as they lost most of the time. However, Norris still appears to be faster than Ricciardo, who was only 11th while the Briton was seventh.
With brake problems for Haas led by Mick Schumacher – which forced him to miss most of the practice session – Kevin Magnussen was the fastest on the team, eighth fastest driver behind the wheel of a single seat with no upgrades. The Dane’s pace in the Haas VF-22 remains impressive.
Valtteri Bottas was a bit disappointed in practice, having only had the ninth time of the course, when yesterday, in practice 1, he looked like he was a bit faster. Followed by Esteban Ocon, he beat his teammate’s time.
The highlight is an Aston Martin that didn’t make the top 10, but was simulating the race, being one of the few cars that tried the toughest Pirelli tire compound in the session. However, for a completely different car and with several upgrades, more was to be expected.

Session film:
Lando Norris, having been out for most of the second free practice, moved onto the track with medium tyres, being the only one of the few riders on the track to have this compound in the early moments of practice.
Pierre Gasly just did the setup cycle and went back to the pit, with smoke coming out of the back of the AlphaTauri AT03.
The only rider to ride the soft compound tires on the track in the first 10 minutes of practice was Valtteri Bottas who also lost almost the entire previous session. On the soft tyres, the Finn was leading the schedule with a time of 1:21.326, leaving Kevin Magnussen 1.5 seconds away.
With less than 15 minutes to go, Mick Schumacher warned the team that the right rear brake was on fire, as he had trouble stopping in front of the pit, and the flame coming out of the VF-22 was immediately extinguished.
Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso, also on the soft tyres, was 0.449sec below Bottas’s record, but faster than the Finn in the first sector.
With more cars fitted with the Pirelli soft compound, Carlos Sainz took the lead in the timesheets (1:20.484s), but Charles Leclerc improved his teammates’ record with a time of 1:20.278.
Among the two Mercedes drivers, who gave good indications yesterday, George Russell is back to the top of the schedule, setting the third best record, with just over 20 minutes into the session, and 0.8 seconds off the start time. Leclerc, while Lewis Hamilton was unable to open the DRS and clearly complete his lap.
Without Max Verstappen on the 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 Perez completed a fast lap and jumped to third, 0.263 seconds short of Leclerc’s time. When Verstappen finished his first attempt on a fast lap, he climbed straight into second, 0.197secs off Monegasque and championship leader.
With the DRS problem resolved, Hamilton returned to the track to improve his record, but still trailed his teammate, more than 0.8secs later than Leclerc’s time. Kevin Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas were between Red Bulls and Mercedes.
Entering the last 25 minutes of practice, the two Ferraris improved their times, maintaining the order they had previously been in, but with Leclerc setting a time of 1:19.772.
Without Ferrari and Red Bull cars, as well as Lewis Hamilton, on track, George Russell set the second-fastest time under 20 minutes into the lap. The Briton was 0.148 seconds short of Leclerc’s time.
Hamilton and Verstappen are back on the track on new soft tyres with less than 10 minutes to improve their times. Lewis Hamilton was the first to complete the lap and lost some time in the final segment – a tenth – to finish behind George Russell, which indicates that Mercedes is closer.
Max Verstappen was the next to finish the match and was 0.072sec behind Leclerc with the second fastest time. Sergio Perez was only sixth, but the top six teams were less than half a second away.
Lando Norris, who has not yet tried the lap on the soft tyres, managed to climb to seventh, 0.631 seconds behind Leclerc’s time, but with a weak third sector.
While some drivers at the end of the session were recording a fast lap, not least because they were simulating the race, the two Ferrari drivers installed soft tires but were running a lot of laps. An act similar to what Perez did yesterday.

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