Sainz leads Singapore F1 GP FP3 ahead of Russell and Norris; Verstappen struggles in P4

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Carlos Sainz made it a Ferrari clean sweep of practice sessions at the 2023 Singapore GP, going fastest in final practice session ahead of qualifying and the race, just seven hundreths ahead of George Russell’s Mercedes. Max Verstappen ended the session very unhappy with gearbox and shifting issues on his RB19 leaving him down in fourth place, over three tenths back from Sainz.

Photo Credits: Scuderia Ferrari

Third practice for the 2023 Singapore GP got underway with a dry but very “green” track once again, as Saturday morning rain washed away all of the Pirelli rubber the drivers laid down on Friday, and in conditions very different to those of qualifying, which will be run in the night later on.

Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu were the first drivers to take the circuit on the soft tyres, with the Finn setting a 1:35.082 – nearly three seconds slower than Friday’s overall fastest time – for his first timed lap, over 1.4s clear of his newly re-signed team-mate.

Several drivers then joined the two Alfa Romeo’s on track, with Max Verstappen setting an early benchmark of a 1:34.402 on the medium tyres, leaving him over six tenths clear of Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari – Friday’s pace-setter, who quickly regained his top spot with a lap in 1:33.778 on the medium tyres as well.

As the session approached a quarter of its duration, Verstappen returned to the top with a lap of a 1:33.660, putting him just over a tenth of a second clear of Sainz, and four tenths clear of George Russell’s Mercedes on the soft tyres. Leclerc, Norris, Perez, Hamilton, Stroll, Bottas and Hulkenberg completed the top ten at that point.

Alex Albon went 10th fastest in his first flying lap 20 minutes into the session – the Thai missed out most of FP2 due to a power unit issue on his Williams.

George Russell briefly went to the top with his second lap on the same set of soft tyres, before being replaced by Sainz’s latest run of a 1:33.195 on the mediums, putting him a quarter of a second clear of the Mercedes driver, who then went on to respond with another run on softs putting him a third of a second clear of the Spaniard as the session approached its halfway mark, with his team-mate and seven-time world champion joining him in P2, 0.222s further back.

Liam Lawson had a spin on the inside kerb of turn two, and just managed to avoid the wall on the exit of turn three, with no damage done.

With half of the session remaining, the order of the top 10 was: Russell, Hamilton, Sainz, Verstappen, Leclerc, Norris, Alonso, Magnussen, Ocon and Sargeant.

Outside the top 10: Albon, Perez, Stroll, Gasly, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Lawson, Zhou and Piastri.

After a flurry of fast laps in the opening half of the session, most drivers returned to the pits, while others who stayed out on track started to focus on long runs.

Running an older specification of the MCL60 than his team-mate Norris, Oscar Piastri could only manage 15th place with his latest run on the hard tyres, and had a moment on the exit of turn two, locking up his brakes and running wide.

With a third of the session remaining, the sun started to go down around the Marina Bay, meaning track conditions started to rapidly improve with more grip on offer for the drivers.

Russell’s latest run on the soft tyres found him an improvement of over half-a-second compared to his previous benchmark. Alex Albon was the next to complete a flying lap on the soft tyres, but could only manage a time a full second slower than the Briton.

Norris put his heavily updated McLaren on top again after impressing in FP1 yesterday, with a time of a 1:32.303 leaving six hundredths clear of Russell’s latest effort, and over two tenths clear of Hamilton.

Aston Martin failed to build on its strong FP2 form, with Alonso and Stroll sitting in sixth and seventh, respectively, three-quarters of a second behind Norris’ time.

Red Bull’s Friday struggles seemed to have been improved, but not fully dialed out on FP3, with Verstappen’s run on the soft tyres leaving him a third of a second behind Lando Norris.

Carlos Sainz then took the top spot, with a striking lap on the soft tyres of a 1:32.065 – the fastest time of the weekend so far – putting him 0.23s ahead of Norris. Sainz’s team-mate Leclerc had to abort his first lap, and only managed fourth fastest, three tenths back from the Spaniard, in his second try.

Verstappen continued to report problems with his gearbox, saying over the radio his upshifts were “unacceptable” and he “couldn’t drive” with it.

Russell improved his time on his second lap and ended up just seven hundredths of a second back from Sainz.

Leclerc was on a flying lap on the final moments of the session, over two tenths clear of Sainz the first sector alone, but had a moment in the exit of turn seven and had to abort the run.

After pitting for adjustments to his gearbox, Verstappen could only manage the fourth best time, over three tenths back from the Spaniard, reporting over the radio he was “drifting” and saying he “might win the race” if it was a drifting contest, clearly sounding very unhappy with what looks set to be the weekend in which Red Bull’s firm hold over the chasing pack comes to an end.

With qualifying taking place in cooler night conditions, teams will have to focus on set-up changes to acommodate for that as we head into the one of the most crucial qualifying sessions of the season.

Source: Formula 1