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Alpine hint at a front-row challenge as Verstappen tops Practice 3 in Australia

The World Champion appears to be the man to beat once again, but the battle behind him looks too close to call

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Max Verstappen led Fernando Alonso in Free Practice 3, but Alpine were the only team to get two cars into the top five.

Max Verstappen finished yet another session at the top of the leaderboard.
Max Verstappen finished yet another session at the top of the leaderboard. (Image credit: @F1 on Twitter.)

Many of the teams went for a couple of quick qualifying runs in the first quarter of an hour before focusing on long runs, having struggled to get many together during a rainy Friday.

The first runs left Charles Leclerc at the top with just a quarter of a second covering the top five. Ominously, though, Verstappen was just 0.050 seconds behind the Monegasque on the slower medium tyre.

Carlos Sainz usurped his teammate at the top of the timings on the second runs and was soon joined on the imaginary front row by Alonso. The Aston Martin driver had struggled with understeer on his first run.

A messy session for Pérez

Sergio Pérez again struggled with traffic as he attempted his first soft-tyre lap 20 minutes into the session.

The Mexican – who had to abort flying laps on more than one occasion in FP2 – had a very uncomfortable moment. He initially caught the Haas of Nico Hülkenberg at the fast Turn 11/Turn 12 combination, who himself then overtook a slower-moving car before almost squeezing Pérez into the wall.

The expected irate radio message was in fact aimed at his engineer rather than his fellow driver. Pérez asked race engineer Hugh Bird: “Man, why did you put me in this gap?”

The other Haas of Kevin Magnussen also had an adventure shortly after, heading straight on at the penultimate corner and stopping just before the wall.

After a brief red flag caused by some Nyck de Vries debris, the cars got back into qualifying spec for the final 20 minutes.

The Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell moved up to second and third, but weren’t there for long as the times began to tumble.

There was even briefly an Alpine 1-2 before Alonso and then Verstappen moved to the top.

Neutrals looking to the Dutchman’s teammate to produce a title battle will have been disappointed as Pérez struggled to set a representative lap time, following his traffic issues with four separate mistakes on four flying laps. He eventually clocked a time good enough for sixth.

The Ferraris ended up 7th and 13th after spending the remainder of the session on the medium tyres, but nonetheless had a nervy moment as the drizzle that had begun to fall intensified at the end of the session, causing Sainz to take a quick sojourn into the gravel after the session had ended.

Featured Image Credit: XPB Images

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