FP3: Aston Martin keeping expectations in check but Fernando Alonso again defies it
Aston Martin may be trying to keep expectations in check, but Fernando Alonso once again defied the party line as he set the pace in Saturday’s final practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The double World Champion laid down a 1:32.340 to beat Max Verstappen by 0.005s with Mercedes also in the fight with Lewis Hamilton third ahead of George Russell.
On another hot afternoon at the Sakhir circuit, Lando Norris was keen to get down to business as McLaren, based on Friday’s results, didn’t appear to be as far off the pace as they had in pre-season testing. He posted a 1:34.633 to get the timesheet moving.
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For the rest of the paddock it was a slow start to the session, only five drivers setting times in the first 15 minutes with Lewis Hamilton, with the lower downforce rear wing, hitting the front.
It was a 1:33.508 for the Mercedes driver as the Woking team ran a comparison wing test, George Russell on the higher downforce one. “Not a good sign,” declared Nico Rosberg for his former team to still be trialling wings so late in a race weekend.
As more drivers ventured out Charles Leclerc went second, 0.066s down, while his team-mate Carlos Sainz aborted his first flying lap as he told Ferrari his seat was broken.
“For your info, the seat is cracked a bit,” he told Ferrari. “Like it did last year.” It didn’t seem to bother him too much, the driver up to P2 ahead of his team-mate.
Lance Stroll slotted into fifth place behind Russell, the Aston Martin driver notably having a wider range of motion with his injured left wrist.
His team-mate Fernando Alonso went faster – purple, purple, green – and it was a 1:33.121 for the double World Champion. He set his time on the soft tyres while Max Verstappen opted to run the hards, the Red Bull driver P5 but only 0.583s off the pace.
Pierre Gasly was the last driver to set a time, the Alpine driver up to eighth as he just made it before the halfway point. Alonso was holding down P1 ahead of Hamilton, the Ferrari drivers, Verstappen, Esteban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas and Gasly. Alex Albon and Sergio Perez making up the rest of the top ten.
While others pitted on their worn tyres, Hamilton and Russell continued to lay down the laps as they worked through their wing trials with Verstappen reporting “no grip, no grip” on his hard tyres. He returned to the pits for adjustments to his rear suspension.
As for Leclerc, he was still struggling to find his exact spot in his pit box. Told he was “five to the left”, he replied: “I really don’t get it. Is it my rear tyres that are too much to the left? I feel like I’m on the right. I need to know in case there is something strange.” The response: “We believe it’s the front tyres.”
The second round of qualifying-style runs began with a P1 for Stroll, the Canadian 0.2s up on Alonso’s best, “a lot tidier through 1 and 2” was the message from Aston Martin. A quick tweak to the car and Alonso was back out on a fresh set of soft tyres, following Hamilton and Verstappen out onto the track.
The Mercedes driver jumped up into P1 with a 1:32.55, his team-mate Russell following him up the timesheet into second, before Verstappen put in personal bests and one purple to pip Hamilton by 0.210s. And then came Alonso…
A 1:32.340 for the double World Champion to put him 0.005s faster than Verstappen! The Red Bull driver had to settle for second ahead of Perez, Hamilton, Leclerc and Russell. Stroll, Sainz, Oscar Piastri and Ocon completed the top ten.
1 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin 1:32.340
2 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing +0.005
3 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.106
4 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.215
5 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.284
6 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.391
7 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.579
8 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.605
9 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +0.705
10 Pierre GASLY Alpin e+0.724
11 Esteban OCON Alpine +0.776
12 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +0.840
13 Lando NORRIS McLaren +0.862
14 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +1.041
15 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +1.083
16 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +1.135
17 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +1.289
18 Logan SARGEANT Williams +1.325
19 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.542
20 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +1.742
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