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Spanish GP FP3: Sainz leads a tight field

Spanish GP FP3: Sainz leads a tight field

Spanish GP FP3: Sainz leads a tight field

Carlos Sainz topped the final practice session for the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and teammate Charles Leclerc.

Once again, we are heading into an exciting qualifying as the FP3 showed that their are four teams are within a shot of pole.

Ferrari showed their hand with Sainz going fastest in the upgraded SF-24, but McLaren are in contention as well despite having an unchanged car, with Norris second fastest behind the Spaniard.

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Leclerc was still off the pace of his teammate and was third fastest ahead of Max Verstappen, the triple Formula 1 Champion fourth fastest but closing the gap to the top time, his RB20 apparently better than it was on Friday.

George Russell was fifth fastest in the Mercedes, confirming that the eight time F1 Champions are going to have their say in qualifying this weekend, as the top five were within a tenth and a half!

The name of the game in qualifying will be tyre management, as drivers will have to avoid overcooking their tyres at the start of the lap and keep some life in them till the final sector, as also being conservative with the tyres did not seem to help the lap time, something Verstappen showed by finishing fourth.

And in addition to the delicate matter of managing the tyres, the teams will have to deal with a slightly cooler track on Sunday for the Grand Prix as rain is expected overnight which means grip levels will change.

So all in all an interesting session where pole could go any way while Red Bull with Verstappen seem to have a very slight advantage for the race on Sunday.

The session also included a couple of weird on track altercations between drivers which will be looked into by the stewards before qualifying. Lewis Hamilton vs Lance Stroll and Norris vs Leclerc.

Buildup towards FP3

For the second race in a row, Mercedes showed strong pace on Friday, and while we would be skeptical about that, Russell’s pole position in Canada showed they may have cracked the code of their W15 after all.

Hamilton was fastest in the second practice on Friday, and later reported being happy with the handling of his car, and while Ferrari did not yet unleash the full potential of their upgraded SF-24, McLaren showed they were in the mix for a strong result.

Verstappen did not seem happy with the balance of his RB20 in FP2, but played that down later claiming Red Bull were playing around with setups and experimenting. In all cases, the reigning Champions usually turn things around between Friday and Saturday, so will they be in the fight for pole?

Other than that, Friday showed that tyre degradation will be a factor this weekend, so its about the team who can best manage their tyres when it comes to qualifying and more importantly the race.

Let’s see what conclusions we can get from FP3.

FP3 Session Highlights

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The session started in clear conditions with track temperatures at 42 degrees Celsius and air temperature registering 26 degrees.

Hamilton did not waste any time and was the first out on track with Soft tyres bolted to his Mercedes, and set the first timed lap of the session.

Verstappen soon followed, as action remained at a low level, but had the Hard tyres bolted to his RB20.

More drivers joined the track with a mix of Soft, Medium, and Hard compounds in use as different teams apparently running different programs.

Soon Stroll radioed his team asking for a knee pad complaining from knee pain. Strangely, Russell soon asked for the same, more foam for knee padding.

After complaining about his SF-24 on Friday, Leclerc praised his team for the work his team did overnight to improve the car.

Leclerc said: “Good job on the car. It is a good step forward.”

The Monegasque did not have the upgrades on his car in FP1, he got them in FP2 but lost running time due to a setup change that took more than expected.

Russell again reported his leg padding is loose on the front left side. This is becoming the theme of FP3!

With 30 minutes out of the way the order was: Russell – Norris – Sainz – Leclerc – Hamilton – Verstappen – Esteban Ocon – Oscar Piastri – Pierre Gasly – Alex Albon.

The second half of the session was mostly about runs on high fuel loads with a variety of tyres, but with 20 minutes remaining, Norris bolts on a new set of Soft tyres and set out on a qualifying simulation.

The Williams drivers, Albon and Logan Sargeant soon follow suit.

Piastri also starts his qualifying simulation, but had to back out on his first attempt after a snap of oversteer at Turn 1.

Norris also abandons his lap after being hit by traffic, but then goes fastest despite going a bit off the track in Turn 12.

Hamilton soon puts in a fast lap on Softs but could not match Norris’ time and was second fastest, with Russell soon following his teammate out.

Russell went second fastest behind Norris.

Hamilton then had a moment with Stroll, the Briton in the Canadian’s way who wasn’t happy about that, with some sidepod banging happening.

Hamilton admits he didn’t see Stroll and takes the blame. The incident was noted and would be investigated after the session.

With seven minutes remaining, more big teams started their qualifying runs, Sainz going fastest dropping Norris to second, while Verstappen was third fastest, but the margins are very slim. Less than a tenth covering the top three.

Leclerc started his qualifying simulation with less than six minutes and despite posting two purple sectors, he lost time in the third sector and goes third fastest.

The drivers returned to their pits for some quick setup tweaks and then set out for a final qualifying run with less than three minutes remaining on the clock.

No one improved on the final run but Leclerc had a bizarre moment with Norris, the former seemingly ramming the McLaren that was driving slowly as the Ferrari was on a push lap.

Their incident will be investigated after the session.

How they finished

Sainz clocked a 1:13.013 to go fastest of all but was only 0.030s faster than Norris in second and 0.037s faster than his teammate, Leclerc in third.

Verstappen was a tad behind in fourth, 0.074s off the pace and 0.077s ahead of Russell who was fifth in the Mercedes.

Hamilton was sixth fastest, 0.346s off the pace of Sainz and 0.364s ahead of Sergio Perez who continued to struggle and was seventh fastest.

Albon was in decent shape, seventh fastest for Williams but 0.740s off the pace and 0.121s ahead of Fernando Alonso who was ninth with Piastri tenth.

VCARB did not seem to get their upgraded car working with Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda 16th and 18th respectively.

Spanish GP FP3 Classification

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