Alonso and Aston Martin continue to impress, leading Bahrain GP FP3; Verstappen only 0.005s behind

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The final practice session ahead of qualifying for the first round of the 2023 F1 season, Fernando Alonso set the pace once again as he pushed his AMR23 to the top of the timings, a mere 0.005s ahead of reigning world champion Max Verstappen., setting the scene for what should be a very close qualifying in Sakhir.

Photo Credits: Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team

The third and final free practice session for the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix got underway in baking hot conditions, as teams and drivers looked to make their final preparations ahead of the first qualifying session of th year.

Lando Norris was the only car on track for the first five minutes of action, setting the early benchmark on the soft tyres. He was soon followed by the two Haas cars on the medium tyres, with Hulkenberg and Magnussen separated by only 0.09s, already painting a different picture to their contrasting Friday fortunes.

The first runs for Mercedes and Ferrari in the initial quarter of the session meant the timings were led by Lewis Hamilton, with Carlos Sainz close behind, Charles Leclerc just under 0.07s behind and team-mate George Russell nearly six-tenths slower.

With a third of the session gone, there was a flurry of activity on track as several drivers took to the Sakhir circuit on soft tyres, including both Alfa Romeo cars of Zhou Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas, setting times good enough for fifth and sixth, respectively, just behind Esteban Ocon’s Alpine.

Talk of the paddock on Friday, Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin set the timing screens alight once again in his very first lap of the session, pushing his AMR23 to the fastest time of a 1:33.121.

The Red Bull’s took to the track on the hard compound tyres, with Max Verstappen lapping just under six-tenths slower than Alonso’s benchmark on the soft tyre, indicating Red Bull has found some pace compared to its difficult Friday.

AlphaTauri’s 2023 struggles continued in the first half of the session, with their soft tyre runs only placing Yuki Tsunoda and Nyck de Vries in P14 and P16, respectively.

At the halfway point of the sessions, Max Verstappen reported on his radio that he had “no grip, no grip”. The Dutchman was still running on the hard tyres. The order was as follows: Alonso, Hamilton, Sainz, Leclerc, Verstappen, Ocon, Bottas, Gasly, Albon, Perez.

As the session reached its final 15 minutes, Zhou Guanyu put in a quick lap that raised the Chinese to P2, just behind Fernando Alonso’s early benchmark, but was soon pushed down to third after Lance Stroll set a new fastest lap for Aston Martin, with a 1:32.919, just over two-tenths clear of Alonso.

The Canadian visibly struggled with his hands during Friday running around turns one and two, but his engineer confirmed on the radio after his quick lap that he made a “good improvement” in that area of the circuit.

Mercedes set their pace ahead of the final 10 minutes, with Lewis Hamilton setting a time of 1:32.555, just over a 0.17s clear of his team-mate George Russell and and three-and-a-half clear of Stroll.

At the final moments of the session, there was somewhat of a showdown between Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso, as the pair set their fastest laps at the same time, with the Spaniard grabbing the fastest time by just the mere margin of five milliseconds over the Dutchman.

Sergio Perez set his best time soon after, just a tenth adrift from Verstappen and Alonso.

Charles Leclerc set a time very late in the session to go fifth fastest, just under 0.3s behind Alonso, with his team-mate Carlos Sainz in an unimpressive eight place in the other Ferrari, a further four tenths back.