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Australian GP FP3: Leclerc fastest, Verstappen very close

Australian GP FP3: Leclerc fastest, Verstappen very close

Australian GP FP3: Leclerc fastest, Verstappen very close

Charles Leclerc topped the final practice session for the 2024 Formula 1 Australian GP, with Max Verstappen a very close second in the Red Bull.

FP3 confirmed Ferrari are the team to beat in qualifying down under, but it will not be a straight forward affair for the Reds as Verstappen in the Red Bull is poised to give Leclerc a hard time in Q3 later on today. Carlos Sainz was third fastest.

After a terrible Friday, and even looking bad early on in FP3, Mercedes seemed to improve as Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were fourth and fifth respectively. Can the Silver/Black Arrows maintain their form for qualifying or will McLaren and Aston Martin have something else in mind.

It will be a tough and exciting qualifying as the top ten in FP3 were all within less than a second, which means the slightest of margins will have a huge effect on his makes it out of Q1 and who doesn’t.

What was interesting though, was that the drivers struggled to improve their times with the Softs compared to the Mediums, the best performance extracted on the second and sometimes the third hot lap, while the Mediums seemed better in delivering performance.

Buildup towards FP3

The first day of action down under was exciting after all, with drivers learning that mistakes will be punishable around Albert Park, no smooth and huge run-off areas here and painted kerbs, only gravel, grass and real kerbs.

Ferrari are apparently taking the fight to Red Bull around Albert Park, evident from the Red Cars’ pace in the second practice session, but again, it would be unwise to discount Verstappen during the race with the RB20’s superior race pace.

Mercedes on the other hand are in trouble, Hamilton all over the place after a wrong setup on the W15, so will he improve in the final practice and ahead of qualifying?

With Aston Martin looking good, McLaren are showing some decent signs as well, but who will be the third fastest team in qualifying?

Then there’s Williams… What an utter disaster, no spare chassis, the driver that didn’t crash having to give his car to the guy that did… These are not the kind of things a team boss has to be worrying about over race weekends, but such is the sorry state of the one-great team that James Vowles finds himself is such a predicament. He needs to act fast.

Other than that, Sainz seems to be a good shape to drive, so it seems the only thing Oliver Bearman will get from the trip to Melbourne is jet lag.

So how will the picture be after FP3?

Australian GP FP3 Session Highlights

The final practice session started under overcast conditions with track temperature at 26 degrees Celsius, with ambient temperature at 18 degrees.

Oscar Piastri led the pack out for the start of the session, with teammate Lando Norris behind him. It was an outlap and the local hero soon returned to the pits.

Soon Sergio Perez joined the action as well as Verstappen, along with both Aston Martins and the Saubers while the rest remained in their garages.

Soon only the Bulls were out on track and Verstappen was complaining his brakes were not working claiming they were “not biting”, but kept going to put a lap on the board, six tenths faster than that set by Perez who soon also reports: “My brakes are lacking bite.”

The Mexican soon goes six tenths faster than his teammate, the only two out there at that moment putting some laps in. Verstappen again goes faster.

Sainz joined the Red Bulls and posted the third fastest time, with teammate Leclerc also out there, as well as Williams’ Alex Albon.

Leclerc goes third fastest on his first attempt, as Sainz goes for another attempt. Now only the Ferraris and Albon are out on track, over 15 minutes into the session.

But soon Hamilton shows up, with Soft tyres on his W15 and goes for a timed lap, but he is over 1.5s slower that Verstappen, fastest at that point and on Mediums. The Briton was informed of the difference and was naturally shocked.

20 minutes into the session and more cars started making their way out on track, Sainz goes fastest at that point on Mediums and Russell sets a lap time on Softs, his first, over 1.6s slower than Sainz.

Edging towards the midway point of the session and the track became busier, with all cars out on track doing the laps.

Leclerc had a small moment out of the penultimate lap, the car stepping out on him as soon as he hit the throttle, but he held and was on his way.

Hamilton was informed that he was 1.3s off the pace, he asked where all the time is lost only to be informed that he is losing seven tenths on the straights. He later improves slashing the gap to seven tenths, but that Mercedes does not look good out on track.

Nico Hulkenberg, in the meantime, was uncomfortable in his helmet, reporting that too much air was getting in and asking for it to be changed.

Aside from Red Bulls, Ferraris, and Albon who were on Mediums, all other cars where running the Soft tyre, 30 minutes into the session.

Albon had a brief moment, losing the rear of the car out of Turn 9, but thankfully keeps the car on track, he reports that the rear tyres are “gone”.

Piastri goes third fastest with less than 20 minutes to go, informed that he has posted the fastest first sector, he cheekily responds: “Amazing what you can do when you stop being an idiot at Turn 1.”

Russell on the other hand is complaining about finding his teammate at some point out on track. He said: “Every time I find Lewis.”

Into the final ten minutes and the track becomes even more busy with Soft tyres and qualifying runs dominating te action.

Hamilton seemed to be finding better lap times, but onboard footage shows he has to work hard to keep that W15 in check. Russell again seems happier with the car.

Strange enough, it does not seem that drivers are easily finding more speed on the Softs, Verstappen reporting he cannot go faster in the high speed corners on the Softs. Sainz could not even improve his lap time with Softs compared to his top time on Mediums.

The session was concluded with practice starts.

How they finished

Leclerc posted a 1:16.714 to go fastest in FP3 his time slightly faster that Verstappen’s pole time of 2023 around Albert Park.

Verstappen was 0.020s behind in second with Sainz a further 0.057s down the road in third.

After some late improvement Hamilton went fourth fastest, 0.092s off the pace and 0.080s ahead of his teammate, Russell, who was fifth fastest.

Fernando Alonso was sixth fastest in the Aston Martin, 0.283s down from the best time and 0.017s ahead of Perez, seventh in the second Red Bull.

Piastri was eighth fastest in the McLaren and 0.254s ahead of Lance Stroll, ninth in the other Aston Martin, with Norris rounding up the top ten, 0.776s away from the benchmark.

FP3 Classification