Verstappen leads Perez and Hamilton; Sargeant crashes out in rain-hit Spanish GP FP3

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Max Verstappen made a clean sweep of free practice sessions of the 2023 Spanish GP by leading the final practice session of the weekend, a quarter of a second ahead of his team-mate Sergio Perez and over four tenths quicker than Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes in P3. Drivers spent most of the session in the garage as the rain hit the circuit early on, after a red flag for Logan Sargeant crashing out at the final corner.

Photo Credit: Oracle Red Bull Racing

As the final free practice session for the 2023 Spanish GP got underway, drivers and teams had to keep a very close eye on the skies. Whilst the session started dry, the FIA’s official risk of rain was 80%, with skies looking very dark and threatening.

The impeding risk of rain meant the drivers were given an extra set of intermediate tyres for use throughout the rest of the weekend.

Drivers queued at the end of the pit lane as the session started, in order to get some crucial laps before the imminent rain.

After a flurry of laps in the first five minutes, Max Verstappen continued where he left off in FP2, setting the fastest time with a lap of 1:13.664, a quarter of a second quicker than his team-mate Sergio Perez in P2, with the two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell behind in fourth and fifth, respectively. Valtteri Bottas completed the top five, with home hero Fernando Alonso down in 6th.

With the second runs, Carlos Sainz got his Ferrari up to 4th place, just under 0.6s behind Verstappen’s earlier benchmark.

But the session was quickly stopped as Logan Sargeant lost control of his Williams exiting the newly reprofiled final part of the lap. The American hit the kerb on the inside of the final corner and went straight to the barriers. Luckily, Sargeant reported he is “fine“.

This means a red flag with ten minutes of the session gone, and with the threat of rain, it very much limited the possible dry running for the session. As the drivers returned to the pits, there were increasing reports of rain, especially in the final sector.

The classified order as of the red flag was: Verstappen, Perez, Hamilton, Sainz, Alonso, Russell, Leclerc, Bottas, Tsunoda, Norris.

Outside of the top 10, Zhou Guanyu put his Alfa Romeo in 11th place, ahead of Nyck de Vries – who continues to have a much-improved weekend compared to the rest of the season, only 0.03s behind Tsunoda’s time.

Lance Stroll had his Aston Martin in 13th, ahead of Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas, who had an impressive Friday, and Oscar Piastri.

Podium finisher in Monaco and P3 in FP2 on Friday, Esteban Ocon was in a lowly 16th place, two spots ahead of his team-mate Pierre Gasly. The two Williams cars rounded out the field, with Logan Sargeant in last after his shunt.

The session restarted with 43 minutes remaining on the clock, but as the rain hit the circuit, no cars went out for the first few minutes.

Lando Norris was the first driver out on track after the red flag, with just over 28 minutes remaining of the session. The Briton went out on the intermediate tyres, but with the increasing rain the McLaren did an installation lap and went straight back to the pit lane.

With a third of the session remaining, the two Ferrari cars of Leclerc and Sainz went out on track on the intermediate tyres. The Spaniard set a lap of a 1:26, over 14s slower than the fastest dry times. Leclerc went wide at turn 10, but managed to keep his SF-23 on track.

With 15 minutes remaining, George Russell, Esteban Ocon, Kevin Magnussen, Lando Norris,and Oscar Piastri soon joined the circuit, all on the intermediate tyres as well.

Russell reported over the radio that it was “definitely raining, but the track doesn’t seem that wet“, and Alex Albon reported the circuit was “quite dry” despite the rain.

Lance Stroll had the first major off of the greasy conditions, taking his Aston Martin for a trip down the gravel trap on the exit of turn five. The team required the Canadian to return to the pits in order to check for any floor damage.

Lando Norris was the first driver back on the slick tyres, running the soft compound, setting a 1:21.6, over two seconds faster than the best times that were being set by those on the intermediates.

Esteban Ocon also found himself in the gravel trap, as the Frenchman ran off circuit on his Alpine at turn seven, but recovered back with no problems.

Lewis Hamilton was one of the drivers who elected not to go out during the intermediate phase, but went back on track with just two minutes remaining, on slick, soft compound tyres.

Max Verstappen had an interesting conversation with his engineer at the end of the session. When asked to push, the Dutchman insisted that it made “no sense” and that he “don’t care if everybody else is pushing“.

Carlos Sainz is under investigation for impeding Nyck de Vries right at the end of the session, on the way to turn 12.

With just two-and-a-half hours until qualifying, drivers and teams got some important running on the final practice session of the weekend.

Source: F1