Max Verstappen continued his strong form in Miami, finishing FP3 fastest of all, and by quite a margin, setting himself up nicely for qualifying.
Unlike last week in Baku, where Verstappen seemed to be working hard to extract pace from his RB19, lap times seemed to be coming naturally for the two-time Formula 1 World Champion, pumping in the fastest times at every attempt.
And if FP3 is anything to go by, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc will be the only driver who “just might” challenge Verstappen for pole, if he can find a way to close the 0.406s gap he had to the Dutchman after the final practice session.
Sergio Perez was third fastest, while Carlos Sainz was fourth in the other Ferrari, as the Reds seem to be the second best team behind Red Bull in Miami.
Lewis Hamilton described Mercedes’ pace in FP2 on Friday as a kick in the guts, but they were so much worse in FP3, the Briton 13th fastest.
Buildup towards FP3
With two practice sessions now driven over the new asphalt of the Miami International Autodrome, hopefully we could see the drivers pushing a bit more in the final practice with the track rubbered in.
With that we should have the pecking order emerging, that is behind Max Verstappen, meaning we will see if Mercedes can bounce back and challenge Aston Martin and Ferrari after their dismal showing in FP2 on Friday.
Ferrari seem to be challengers in qualifying at least but expected to drop back in the race, but Aston Martin – for the second week in a row – seem to be lacking the firepower to fight for the best of the rest status behind Red Bull like they did in the first three races, but maybe the AMR23, like Verstappen, doesn’t enjoy street circuits.
With Sergio Perez off the pace of Verstappen since Friday, it would be interesting to see of the he and his engineers came up with solutions overnight to bridge the half-second gap to the Dutchman, and walk the Championship-talk he’s been on since Baku.
Miami FP3 Session Highlights
The weather was more overcast in FP3 compared to Friday, with talks about rain being expected for Sunday, and the final practice session kicked off with track temperatures at 47 degrees, air temperature at 29. Dry and hot.
Fernando Alonso was the first driver to hit the track, with Mercedes’ seven-time Formula 1 Champion Lewis Hamilton following.
Moments after he hit the track, on his out-lap, Hamilton reported vibrations on his front tyres. He said: “Front tyres are vibrating already.”
Footage showed Hamilton struggling with his W14, locking his brakes at Turn 8 and sliding at Turn 15 hitting the kerbs quite violently.
Max Verstappen’s first flying lap took him directly to the top of the timing sheets, 0.3s clear of teammate Sergio Perez’s first timed lap, but soon Charles Leclerc split the Bulls to go second fastest, just 0.094s away from Verstappen. A Red Bull/Ferrari fight for pole?
Verstappen’s second attempt at a flyer saw him shave off almost one second from his first timed lap. With 20 minutes gone, he was topping the timing screens by over six tenths.
George Russell, running a totally different setup to Lewis Hamilton reported that the balance on his W14 was ok, but that he was lacking overall pace.
Halfway through the session, the Yellow Flag was out as Alex Albon lost his Williams at Turn 17, ending up in the run-off area but remained in one piece. He got on with it, but complained to his team for not reminding him to reset switches on his steering.
Alonso had a similar moment at Turn 17 locking up and going into the run-off area, while his compatriot Carlos Sainz seemed to be in a better place with his Ferrari, second fastest behind Verstappen at the halfway mark of the FP3.
The track continued to ramp up, the grip improving, with Esteban Ocon reporting to his team: “The grip is picking up on the track massively.”
With 30 minutes remaining, Verstappen pumped in a lap time of 1:27.669, over one second faster than the pole time clocked by Charles Leclerc in 2022, a 1:28.796.
Christian Horner told F1 TV: “The circuit is changing, it’s ramping up and Max [Verstappen] certainly seems pretty comfortable. Checo [Perez] is chipping away at the set up so let’s see what he can do.”
Oscar Piastri had a close moment with Sergio Perez in the pitlane, as Red Bull released the Mexican into the Australian’s path who said of the team radio: “That was quite late by the Red Bull.”
Russell, with almost 20 minutes remaining, reporting a return of the vibrations in his steering column, the same issue he suffered from in FP1 on Friday.
Hamilton, on the other hand, reported that he was losing a lot on the straights. He said over the team radio: “We seem to be losing a lot more on the straights.”
Lando Norris had a big moment, as his MCL60 snapped through Turns 4 and 5, but some masterful driving from the Briton meant he kept it out of the barriers.
The McLaren driver soon had another moment at Turn 1, locking up heavily, and ending up in the run-off area. A tough session for the Woking squad, both drivers out of the top 15 with just minutes remaining from FP3.
Russell’s struggles continued, as he reported to his engineers: “I cannot get through Turn 2, there is so much hopping.”
Verstappen quite fittingly lineup up on the pole grid position at the end of FP3 to practice his start for Sunday.
How they finished
Verstappen already was one second faster than last year’s pole time posted by Charles Leclerc halfway into FP3, but kept improving and ended up 1.2s faster posting 1:27.535.
Second fastest was Charles Leclerc, 0.406s slower, and definitely wondering how to challenge the Dutchman in qualifying. Maybe some Leclerc magic?
Sergio Perez remained off his teammate’s pace, half a second slower and third fastest in FP3, with his chances of a Baku repeat in Baku now standing at nil.
Carlos Sainz was fourth fastest for Ferrari, 0.075s behind Perez, a slight improvement from the Spaniard compared to his weekend in Azerbaijan.
Alpine had a promising final practice, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly fifth and sixth fastest respectively over eight tenths away from the top but separated by a mere 0.021s.
Another surprise in FP3 was Valtteri Bottas, who posted a 1:28.456, good enough for seventh fastest, but 0.921s off the pace, with Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg chasing the Finn in eighth just 0.041s behind.
Alex Albon did well to finish ninth in the Williams, albeit over one second off the pace, with George Russell, the faster of the Mercedes drivers down in tenth, 1.071s too slow.
Lewis Hamilton was down in 13th for what must be a terrible practice session for the eight-time Constructors’ Champions.
Another surprise from FP3 was Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard only good for 12th, while McLaren were a miserable 18th and 19th with Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris respectively.