Saudi Arabian GP FP3: Verstappen turns the wick up

Saudi Arabian GP FP3: Verstappen turns wick up, Bearman impresses

Saudi Arabian GP FP3: Verstappen turns the wick up

Max Verstappen topped the final practice session for the 2024 Saudi Arabia Grand Prix, the reigning Formula 1 Champion finally showing his RB20’s true pace.

There was no surprise in the final practice, as Verstappen proved what everyone expected and that pole is his to lose in Jeddah.

But for the second week in a row, it was Ferrari who appear to be the only team to challenge the Dutchman for pole and Charles Leclerc in particular who was second fastest.

Sergio Perez continued his strong form, third fastest in the other Red Bull, and ahead of George Russel, fourth in the Mercedes.

The session was not straight forward with Zhou Guanyu crashing heavily in the final quarter of the session, while F1 debutant Oliver Bearman impressed with a mature session, finishing in the top ten.

Behind Red Bull and Ferrari, it is all to play for between McLaren and Mercedes.

Buildup towards FP3

As if the drama we have been witnessing since the F1 off season, the news of Sainz having to undergo surgery for appendicitis ahead of the final practice session came down as a shock on the sport.

Sainz has been feeling ill since he arrived in Jeddah and could barely take part in FP1 and FP2 on Thursday, but it was revealed today that his illness was worse than anyone expected.

Ferrari announced that their junior driver Bearman – currently competing in Formula 2 – would be replacing the ill Spaniard alongside Leclerc. That is as tough as a crash test could be, dropped in an F1 car out of the blue, and not any car, a Red one.

We can only wish Sainz a speedy recovery and we look forwards to seeing him back in the cockpit as soon as possible so he can deliver strong performances like the one we witnessed in Bahrain one week ago.

As for the sporting side, and from what we saw yesterday, Red Bull are still the favorites, Verstappen the one to put money on for pole later today, while Perez was not far off. The Bulls were also strong on race pace as well.

While Aston Martin seemed rapid with Fernando Alonso going fastest in FP2, it is clear by now that the Aramco-backed team had their engine modes turned up to deliver some glory runs.

And while Verstappen insisted that qualifying will be close, it is clear he is confident and just saying what the Red Bull PR people told him to.

Keep in mind that conditions in FP3 are not comparable to those of qualifying, but the teams will push a bit more as they dial their cars for qualifying, so expect a bit of a clearer picture.

FP3 Session Highlights

FP3 started in clear windy conditions with track temperatures registering 42 degrees centigrade with ambient temperature at 26 degrees.

As soon as the session was green-lighted Valtteri Bottas head out on track and a couple of minutes later, Bearman made his way to the track to start his F1 debut.

Bearman became the 776th driver to race in F1, the 97th driver to take part with Ferrari, the youngest ever rookie and driver to race for the Scuderia. Keep an eye on the #38 SF-24 out there.

Bearman’s first time was a 1:33.114 on the Medium compound, as the Ferrari pit wall gave him some instructions: “Take your time in the car, take your rhythm, build up from there.”

Ten minutes into the session and there was not much action out on track, as almost half the field remained in their garages.

On his second timed attempt, seventh lap overall, Bearman went purple in the second the third sectors, despite a slight wiggle, and put his Ferrari top of the timing screens – that was around 15 minutes into the session.

Russell, on Soft tyres could not go faster than Bearman, he was 0.063s slower than the F2 driver.

Over to the Red Bull garage, and Verstappen was still out of his car, no helmet on and just having a chat with his mechanics. The triple F1 Champion finally gets into his RB20, twenty minutes into the session.

Bearman meanwhile was complaining about the thick padding around his headrests and asked for thinner ones.

Past the twenty minute mark and more drivers make their way out on track and and the lap times start tumbling.

Yuki Tsunoda is not happy about the ride of his car, reporting that it’s “bouncing like crazy”.

With 30 minutes to go, Alonso had not registered a time yet, while Logan Sargeant was out of the car watching the monitors in the team garage.

Williams revealed they were assessing the American’s car after tagging the wall at Turn 22, a carbon copy of Lance Stroll’s incident from Thursday.

The Williams steering rack was broken and needed replacement which meant no more running for Sargeant.

The track kept evolving with Verstappen kept improving his time and was just two tenths slower than the 2023 pole time of Perez.

He reported after returning to the garage that he hit something, he said over the radio: “I hit something in Turn 10, I don’t know if it was a plastic bottle or something but I hit something with my right tyre.”

With 17 minutes remaining Zhou lost control of is Sauber at Turn 7 and ended up in the barriers, his car shattered. Luckily the Chinese driver was out of the car and unharmed.

The Red flag was naturally out.

The session was resumed with five minutes remaining, and the drivers lined up in the pitlane waiting for the green light to try and get some final running before qualifying.

The final minutes saw a flurry of fast laps as the drivers took their cars around the Jeddah Corniche circuit for the final time before things got serious in qualifying.

Practice starts concluded the session.

How they finished

Verstappen posted a 1:28.412 to go fastest in FP3, almost two tenths clear of Leclerc in second, while Perez was a further three tenths down in third.

Russell, fourth in the Mercedes was over half a second off the pace and 0.007s ahead of Norris, fifth fastest in the McLaren.

Alonso, after showing serious pace on Thursday was sixth fastest in the Aston Martin, over six tenths off the pace and less that a tenth faster than Stroll, seventh in the sister car.

Oscar Piastri was eighth fastest in the other McLaren, 0.801s off the pace and 0.055s ahead of a struggling Lewis Hamilton, the seven-time F1 Champion only ninth fastest.

Bearman, after grabbing pole in F2 earlier in the day made it into the top ten, the young Briton keeping his head down under extreme pressure. He was almost nine tenths off the pace, and seven tenths slower than Leclerc in the sister Ferrari.

Saudi Arabian GP FP3 Classification

Image