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Max Verstappen makes it three out of three after free practice three at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
As the excitement for free practice three, and qualifying afterwards, builds, Mercedes remains the talk of the paddock. Following free practices one and two yesterday, Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff sat down with Sky Sports F1 to talk about his team’s drop in performance.
Wolff admitted that Mercedes has reached a “dead end,” and they now need to find a new development route. A process that the Mercedes boss seemed to suggest they have already started. But Wolff also conceded that if Mercedes cannot develop a championship-worthy car, they may lose their seven-time world champion, Lewis Hamilton.
Aside from the two Aston Martin drivers, it was a slow start to free practice three. After the first ten minutes passed, the practice session truly began as more cars took to the track.
A short session for Nyck de Vries
The AlphaTauri team announced that the Dutch driver will not take part in the free practice session. Whilst preparing for the session, the team discovered an issue with his power unit. It will now be a race against time to ensure de Vries will be able to take part in qualifying later today.
unfortunately, we’ve detected an issue on @nyckdevries’ car and we are now changing his PU.
as a result, he won’t be participating in FP3 pic.twitter.com/dJ8Rr7kvIs
— Scuderia AlphaTauri (@AlphaTauriF1) March 18, 2023
Traffic continues to be an issue in Jeddah
As the session started to ramp up, more cars were on track. We saw in free practices one and two yesterday that traffic was a serious issue, especially with drivers who were on slow in or out laps. It seems that these traffic issues are set to continue, even though F1 Race Director Niels Wittich set a lap time target of 1:51.0 (or below), which will be observed during qualifying today especially.
Mercedes driver Hamilton came across a vast amount of traffic during his early push lap, resulting in the seven-time champion abandoning his lap.
Traffic for Lewis Hamilton in FP3! It's getting busy out there 🏎️🏎️🏎️ pic.twitter.com/WFO64a1yTN
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) March 18, 2023
At the halfway point
With half of the session gone, it was the Red Bull of Sergio Perez that set the fastest time of 1:29.417, only 0.132 quicker than his teammate. Differing from the previous practice sessions, it was not the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso closest to the Red Bulls but rather the Alpine’s, with Pierre Gasly in P3 and Esteban Ocon in P4.
The Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were down in P9 and P10, respectively. With Hamilton in P7 and his teammate George Russell in P5. Alonso was down in P19, with a time he set early on in the session on hard tyres.
At the halfway point, it was also announced that Verstappen will take a brand-new gearbox for the race on Sunday. This will not result in any sort of penalty for the Red Bull driver, as it is within his allocation. But the Dutch driver was complaining about his gear shifts in practice on Friday, hopefully he will be happier following the change.
A close call for Ocon
Following his run of three penalties during the Bahrain Grand Prix last weekend, Ocon will be looking to have an impressive weekend in Saudi Arabia. Especially since his teammate scored points last time out. And the French driver is definitely pushing, his quick reflexes saved his Alpine from hitting the wall on a push lap.
💥 ¡POR LOS PELOS Esteban OCON! 💥#F1 #GPArabiaSaudí #SaudiArabianGP 🇸🇦pic.twitter.com/yQeDllJqdu
— Fórmula Directa (@FormulaDirecta) March 18, 2023
Verstappen and Lando Norris almost collide
With the drivers starting their final flying laps at the end of the session, Verstappen was on a cool-down lap and clearly impeded the McLaren of Norris. The British driver was not happy, calling the manoeuvre “dangerous,” and the Red Bull driver was also unhappy with his team over the radio. The incident was noted by the stewards, who quickly determined that no further investigation was necessary.
"It's dangerous what these guys are doing…that could have been a massive crash" 📻
Lando Norris is not happy over team radio 😡 pic.twitter.com/is2iwDuRYt
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) March 18, 2023
🏁 FP3 CLASSIFICATION 🏁
Another promising session in the bag for @redbullracing and @AstonMartinF1! 👊#SaudiArabianGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/bQX7HTQx6s
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 18, 2023
At the end of the session, it was the Red Bull of Verstappen that was back at the top of the timesheet with a 1:28.485. He was followed by his teammate in P2, who was 0.613 adrift from the Dutchman. Alonso, Lance Stroll, and Hamilton rounded out the top five.
The two Ferraris were well down the order, with Leclerc finishing the session in P6, with his teammate Sainz in P10. The second Mercedes of Russell was just behind Sainz in P11.
The only car to not set a time was de Vries, who is the only driver on the grid that has not raced in Jeddah previously. Fellow rookies Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant ended the session in P8 and P16, respectively.
But who will be quick enough for pole? Will Verstappen take his second pole of the season? Or will his teammate make it back-to-back poles in Saudi Arabia?
Feature Image Credit: @F1 on Twitter