Max Verstappen topped the final practice for the 2023 Mexico City Grand Prix, ahead of a rapid Alex Albon who may end up upsetting the order in qualifying.
Verstappen seemed to have improved from Friday, but Albon was less than a tenth behind him in second place, but then the triple Formula 1 Champion has some more pace in reserve, given he suffered from traffic on his best lap.
And while Sergio Perez came closer to his teammate in FP3, Mercedes seem to have improved, George Russell holding an advantage on Lewis Hamilton, while McLaren seemed to have dropped back.
Ferrari were hard to gauge as both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were impeded by Kevin Magnussen and Lance Stroll respectively, ruining their final runs as both ended up being out of the top ten.
Charles Leclerc backs out of his lap when he encounters a slow-moving K-Mag
It’s the second day of action and qualifying is just a few hours away and it’s only then that we will find out the pecking order in Mexico this weekend.
Naturally, Verstappen and Red Bull will be the package to beat, but Friday showed that McLaren are up their challenging the 2023 F1 Champions on both long and qualifying runs, while Mercedes seemed decent on race simulations, not so much on qualifying pace, Ferrari the total opposite to them.
Verstappen admitted that it was tricky managing the tyres on the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez but it would not be smart to bet against Red Bull, who will definitely find some pace overnight.
Hamilton was not happy with his long runs and doesn’t feel quite as comfortable in the W14 like he was in Austin, despite being faster than Verstappen on Friday, but Mercedes usually have a decent car for Sunday.
As for Mexico’s here, Perez, he was closer than usual to his teammate, but not enough to dream of becoming the first Mexican driver to win at home, as he was still over three tenths off the pace, with the likes of Norris and Leclerc threatening to beat him as well, not to mention the rapid Albon who may just spring a surprise.
Aston Martin and Alonso seem to be out of shape totally, as their struggles were apparent in both Friday practice sessions, so will they bounce back or will they do like they did in Austin and revert to the old spec car again?
FP3 while not 100% conclusive will give us a hint at what we can expect to see in qualifying later today.
Mexico FP3 session highlights
While there was a bit of rain in FP2 on Friday, conditions were clear at the start of the final practice with air temperature at 21 degrees Celsius and the track temperatures at 42 degrees Celsius.
The teams and drivers took their time before getting out on track, and it was Bottas who was the first driver to set a times lap.
Verstappen and Perez on the other hand remained out of their cars, while both Sainz and Leclerc in the Ferrari were sent out on track on Soft tyres for some early qualifying runs.
Ten minutes into the session and it was only Leclerc, Sainz, and Bottas that posted lap times and in that order. The latter also had a snap of oversteer at Turn 11, but managed to hold it. Tsunoda also had a similar incident but at Turn 13.
Soon, more drivers joined the action, the Alpines, the Mercedes, and McLarens as Norris lost the rear of his MCL60 in the final corner, but kept it under control.
However with 15 minutes into the session, both Red Bull remained in the garage, while Gasly brought out the first Yellow flag, losing control of his Alpine at Turn 12 after taking too much kerb.
Tsunoda again lost his car at Turn 12, but this time due to understeer. He took to the run-off area and kept going.
Piastri soon reports that he is not happy with the ride of his MCL60. He is also struggling with rear grip, while Russell, on a flying lap, lost the rear of his W14 and had to go through the run-off area.
After twenty minutes of running, both Red Bull drivers finally emerged from their garages to start their final practice session.
Magnussen reported that he felt one of his wheels was not on properly and boxed for Haas to have a look, while Sainz backed off his lap after riding the kerbs quite hard at Turn 12.
Russell was leading the time sheets when Verstappen hit the track, but it took the Dutchman two attempts at a timed lap to dislodge the Briton from the top spot.
Halfway into the session, the order was: Verstappen – Russell – Perez – Ricciardo – Hamilton – Leclerc – Sainz – Sargeant – Albon – Norris.
The teams soon started to do some long runs on high fuel loads to get an understanding of the tyres. Some were running on Soft tyres, others were on Mediums.
With 18 minutes remaining, the Yellow flag was out again in the first sector, as Ocon missed his braking into Turn 1 as his car was bouncing. That was a brief interruption.
Drivers, with almost 15 minutes remaining started bolting on new Soft tyres for another qualifying simulation with Russell expressing to his team that he was not happy that there was no improvement compared to the first runs.
“I was a little bit surprised by the lack of improvement there,” he told the Mercedes pit wall.
“Where has all that time gone?” Hamilton, in the second Mercedes, was wondering.
With ten minutes remaining, Verstappen was back for another qualifying run, and he duly goes fastest but by less than tenth to Albon. He soon radioed his team complaining about traffic.
Both Ferrari drivers suffered from traffic on their runs, Leclerc impeded by the Haas of Magnussen, while Sainz had a more dramatic incident at he same place, as he found Stroll in the middle of the corner, and spun trying to avoid the Canadian. Needless to say, he wasn’t happy.
The stewards soon revealed that they took note of the Stroll/Sainz incident, but that meant both Ferraris missed out on a proper run and did not make it into the top ten.
The stewards soon announced there was no need to take any further action against Stroll.