FP3: Max Verstappen well clear of congested chasing pack in Miami heat
Max Verstappen lapped four tenths clear of the rest of the field in FP3 in Miami, with a tight pack behind the Red Bull driver.
The World Championship leader went 0.406s faster than the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc in second, with Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez third and Carlos Sainz ahead of the Alpine duo of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, who showed impressive pace in FP3 to put both cars in the top six.
Valtteri Bottas, Nico Hulkenberg, Alex Albon and George Russell rounded out the top 10 as a mixture of constructors filled out the top positions.
Aston Martin will have work to do to get themselves into the mix come qualifying, with P12 and P14 the sum of their FP3 results between Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll, and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton splitting them in 13th.
There was very little to separate the teams behind Red Bull and Ferrari, however, with only 0.316s separating Esteban Ocon in P5 and Stroll in P14.
After saying his lack of pace in FP2 felt like a “kick in the gut”, with under three minutes of the session gone Hamilton was reporting that his soft tyres were vibrating already, on their first lap of use.
With plenty of heat in the air and on the track surface in the lunchtime sun in Miami, the 1:28.6 set by Verstappen on soft tyres on his first flying run was several tenths slower than he managed on his qualifying simulation in FP2, though it was still comfortably faster than those behind in a muted opening quarter-hour of the session.
Leclerc put himself to within a tenth of the Red Bull driver in his Ferrari in that time, but the majority of the grid opted to stay in their garages.
Two of the richest men in the world were also being shown around the paddock during the session, with Elon Musk, the Twitter and Tesla CEO, being entertained in the Red Bull garage by Christian Horner and F1 chief executive, Stefano Domenicali, while Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was shown the ropes on the McLaren pit wall by Zak Brown.
Second push laps followed for the Red Bull duo as they both improved on their initial efforts, with Verstappen taking seven tenths off his first flying lap – almost matching his FP2 qualifying simulation time with a 1:27.969, and a full second quicker than Fernando Alonso in fourth at that point.
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“Balance is okay, just struggling for overall pace” was the assessment from George Russell over team radio as he sat 1.4s off Verstappen’s lofty benchmark.
Turn 17 proved to be a hotspot for drivers locking up once again, with the cars heading to the corner at over 200mph into the braking zone – with Hamilton, Alonso and Alex Albon all running deep into the final hairpin of the lap at different times in the session.
Halfway through the session, the World Championship leader improved further still, shaving three tenths off his quickest time to set a 1:27.669 as the track rubbered in and grip levels ramped up for the drivers, before going even faster on a later flying run.
Pierre Gasly put in an eye-catching lap for Alpine as he placed himself within the top five heading into the final 20 minutes, with Nico Hulkenberg 1.1s off the pace for Haas in what was shaping up to be a congested chasing pack behind the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers.
But the track evolution was such that names we have not associated with being in the upper echelons of the standings so far this season put themselves in the mix, with Valtteri Bottas and Albon going P5 and P6 respectively in quick succession of each other, with 49°C track temperature playing its part in a sweaty FP3 session for the drivers.
Russell sounded like he was losing confidence with his W14 as the session progressed, complaining of the car “hopping” as he rounded Turn 2, with work to be done at Mercedes before qualifying.
Where the session was quiet in the opening stages, the drivers made up lost time in the final minutes, with all 20 of them on track in the final 10 minutes as they looked to make the most of the improving surface in Miami.
Leclerc was able to do so, putting himself second in his Ferrari but still four tenths shy of Verstappen’s best – with the Red Bull driver putting himself as the clear favourite heading into qualifying, based on his practice pace.
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull 1:27.535
2 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.406
3 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull +0.515
4 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.590
5 Esteban OCON Alpine +0.872
6 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.893
7 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +0.921
8 Nico HULKENBERG Haas +0.962
9 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.026
10 George RUSSELL Mercedes +1.071
11 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas +1.072
12 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +1.083
13 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +1.183
14 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +1.188
15 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +1.539
16 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +1.644
17 Logan SARGEANT Williams +1.729
18 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +1.840
19 Lando NORRIS McLaren +1.866
20 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +1.912
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