Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz remain optimistic over their prospects at this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix despite the Maranello team’s ongoing power unit concerns.
It had been confirmed earlier in the week that Charles Leclerc would be taking a ten-place grid penalty in Jeddah after technical issues at the season-opener in Bahrain saw him retire and use up each of the two control electronics systems that each driver is permitted for the campaign, but more bad news was to follow.
Shortly after Friday’s opening practice session began, the FIA confirmed both FerrariSF-23 cars had also taken new power units, which will not instantly cause any further penalties but could lead to infringements later in the season, and is a concerning reflection on the Maranello team’s confidence in its reliability.
We were officially under way in Practice 3 – but no cars took to the track in the first minutes of the session. Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll was the first man we saw on Saturday but a lot of people were interested to learn if the Ferrari cars had more speed than they showed yesterday. There was a feeling that they were holding back. Lance Stroll and Aston Martin team-mate Fernando Alonso were the only drivers to have emerged after the first ten minutes of FP3, while it was confirmed that AlphaTauri’s De Vries would not be joining them due to an issue with his car.
After a few moments, the McLaren cars were out now. Lando Norris revealed yesterday that he has a new engine as his old one, to use his words, “was finished already”. It’s a 1:32.531 for the McLaren man on the medium tyres. Max Verstappen was out on the hards.
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There was no uniformity when it came to tyres in this session, with the Aston Martins on the hard compound, then the likes of Charles Leclerc on the medium and the Mercedes drivers on the softs, which made for quite an interesting timesheet. As Pierre Gasly went quickest with a 1:30.71 on the soft tyres, Max Verstappen was only fractionally slower on the hards. The Mercedes duo then hit the top on the softs, with George Russell’s 1:30.476 putting him in front, ahead of Hamilton, who was +0.016 in arrears.
Max Verstappen was still on the hard rubber but went fastest with a time of 1:29.882, while Lewis Hamilton went third on the softs, some six tenths behind our leader, with Alpine’s Gasly, also on the softs, sitting second. If Ferrari were indeed blessed with pace we had yet to see it: Charles Leclerc was over a second behind new pacesetter Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz almost 1.5 seconds adrift. They sat eighth and ninth respectively with a little over 30 minutes remaining. The top of the timesheet was made up of a lot of the usual suspects at this stage, but Alex Albon just put in a great lap to go sixth fastest, +0.909s off Sergio Perez at the top. We should perhaps read these results with a slight pinch of salt considering the conditions were not representative of the night-time ones the drivers will face later today in qualifying and then in Sunday’s race. But we had a usual top two in Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen.
With 23 minutes to go, Charles Leclerc was on the team radio to complain of some issues with his gearbox, which was not the noises the Ferrari garage wanted to hear: “I lost the first shift”, said the Monegasque to his team.
Lewis Hamilton was scuppered by traffic on an earlier lap and that appeared to be a major issue at this track, as Rosberg was explaining for Sky Sport F1 us before the session and Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz explained last night. Esteban Ocon, meanwhile, managed to cling on in his Alpine, just as he threatened to collide with the wall at Turn 9. Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon were third and fourth as we hit the last third of Practice 3 in Jeddah.
They are hot favourites to challenge the Red Bulls for the front of the grid spots today, but there hadn’t been much speed from Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll at this stage of the final free practice session. Lance Stroll was running 13th and 1.614s off the pace, with Fernando Alonso 3.144s behind. However, the Aston Martin cars returned to the track and moved in the top six. In a boost for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton went third quickest on the soft tyres, although that was eight tenths behind session leader Max Verstappen’s 1:28.756, which was also set on the softs.
We had just ten minutes left of this session and the Ferrari car were unfortunately nowhere to be seen. Charles Leclerc was running 17th and was 1.944s off the pace, with Carlos Sainz just behind in 18th and over two seconds off the leaders. Both were in the garage and only ran on the medium compound. The Monegasque driver was on a hot lap for Ferrari but was nearly 1.5 seconds behind Max Verstappen and it was a similar story for his Maranello teammate Carlos Sainz. Are Ferrari holding back – or are they just slow?
Our top three was once again Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso, with Lance Stroll fourth, Lewis Hamilton fifth and Lando Norris sixth as we approached the chequered flag. The flag was waved just as Scuderia Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was on a hot lap and managed to improve his standing from 11th to sixth, albeit that he was still over a second adrift of Verstappen in that quality Red Bull.
Practice Three: Final Timesheet
1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull, 1:28.485
2) Sergio Perez, Red Bull, +0.613
3) Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, +0.998
4) Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, +1.024
5) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, +1.083
6) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, +1.103
7) Lando Norris, McLaren, +1.205
8) Oscar Piastri, McLaren, +1.213
9) Pierre Gasly, Alpine, +1.216
10) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari, +1.276
11) George Russell, Mercedes, +1.326
12) Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo, +1.432
13) Nico Hulkenberg, Haas, +1.448
14) Esteban Ocon, Alpine, +1.468
15) Alex Albon, Williams, +1.498
16) Logan Sargeant, Williams, +1.550
17) Kevin Magnussen, Haas, +1.646
18) Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo, +1.832
19) Yuki Tsunoda, Alpha Tauri, +2.312
20) nyck de Vries, Alpha Tauri, No Time
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