Max Verstappen heads into qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix as the fastest driver in final practice as his Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez suffered multiple offs in a frustrating session.
The world champion’s 1’17.565 was a tenth of a second faster than Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin, while Esteban Ocon took third for Alpine. Perez was sixth quickest, but ran off the track on no fewer than four occasions while struggling with the handling of his Red Bull.
After rain affected the second practice session, teams were greeted with overcast skies and relatively cool temperatures as the third and final hour of practice began. Despite a 30% risk of rain hanging over the last session of running before qualifying, there was not an immediate rush of drivers heading out onto the circuit as the pit lane opened.
Ferrari set the early pace of those who took to the track, with Carlos Sainz Jnr quickest with a 1’19.061, four tenths of a second ahead of team mate Charles Leclerc. Friday’s pace setter Verstappen headed out on medium tyres and immediately went quicker than he had during the opening day, posting a 1’18.741 on medium tyres.
As on Friday, traffic was an acute problem during the session. George Russell complained about Lance Stroll getting in his way at the apex of the turn six kink leading onto the long back straight, forcing him to back off from an early push lap.
Leclerc put Ferrari back on the top of the times with a 1’18.691 on the soft tyres, which was soon beaten by team mate Sainz who produced a 1’18.127. Alonso then went second fastest, two tenths behind. After 20 minutes in the garage as Red Bull reportedly worked on his anti-roll bar, Perez became the final driver to take to the track. He used the soft tyres for his first run, but his flying lap attempt was ruined by Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas on the approach to turn 11.
The middle phase of the session was dedicated to high fuel runs as teams tried to make up for lost time from the rain on Friday. Kevin Magnussen briefly brought out the yellow flags by running off onto the grass at turn 13, before the session was stopped with a red flag when bodywork broke off Nyck de Vries’ AlphaTauri on the run to the fast chicane of turns nine and ten, leaving debris just off the racing line.
After a brief suspension, the session restarted with teams resuming their race simulation runs. Heading back out, Perez appeared to be struggling with the handling of his Red Bull, especially under braking. He suffered multiple lock-ups on his push laps, including a significant error at turn three that saw him run over the gravel.
Zhou Guanyu lost control of his Alfa Romeo after running wide at turn one and spinning over the grass, slightly touching the outside barrier. Zhou managed to right his car and recover back to the garage with seemingly minimal damage to his C43.
Late in the session, teams turned their focus onto qualifying. Verstappen returned to the soft tyres and posted the quickest time of the weekend with a 1’17.565, with Alonso moving to second, within two tenths of the Red Bull. Ocon put his Alpine up into third a further two tenths behind.
In the final minutes, rain started to fall over the circuit. Perez and Leclerc were both caught out by the reduced grip, running off at turn one and over the grass. The chequered flag signalled the end of the session to confirm Verstappen as quickest, as drivers took to the starting grid to carry out practice starts.
Oscar Piastri was the first to arrive on the grid but appeared not to move to the front grid slot to attempt his start, triggering an investigation by the stewards for failing to follow the race director’s instructions.
Alonso finished the hour second quickest, with Ocon third for Alpine. Russell put his Mercedes fourth-fastest ahead of the second Alpine of Pierre Gasly. Perez was sixth despite struggling to stay on-track throughout the session. Sainz was seventh for Ferrari, but suffered a trip into the gravel at turn 11 on his way back to the pits, with Lewis Hamilton, Lance Stroll and Zhou rounding out the top ten.
2023 Australian Grand Prix third practice result
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2023 Australian Grand Prix
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