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Japanese GP: Verstappen fastest in FP3 ahead of Ferraris

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen had the measure of the Ferraris to lead a dry final practice session ahead of Formula 1’s 2022 Japanese Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Verstappen, who will be guaranteed a second title this weekend if he wins and takes fastest lap, found just shy of three tenths over Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc to head the pack.

Although there was some surprise that FP1 and FP2 took place at all given the pre-event forecast for a washout, the wet running on Friday had a lasting impact as it paved the way for a hectic start to the final hour of practice on Saturday.

With all three dry Pirelli compounds still to be assessed by the teams, the end of the pit lane was a hive of activity as FP3 began, with FP2 pacesetter George Russell and Sainz leading a queue of cars.

Again, given the time constraints, only the Alfa Romeo duo opted for instal laps as everyone else stayed put out on track to quickly set a headline time before the switch to race stints,

Medium-shod Russell soon posted the first effort, lapping in 1m37.969s before Sainz on softs lowered that to 1m35.491s – with the offset between C2 and C3 tyres predicted to be 1.2s.

Then, as is seemingly par for the course during free practice running this season, champion-elect Verstappen blew the times away at his first attempt after five minutes.

He pounded the soft-shod RB18 round in 1m32.050s to sit 1.186s clear of teammate Sergio Perez as McLaren’s Lando Norris ran 2.2s adrift in third but kept a whisker ahead of Daniel Ricciardo.

After the opening salvo, Sainz headed up the Ferrari attack in eighth while Leclerc was 11th after his first run on medium tyres, the Monegasque notably sideways exiting Degner corner.

The Mercedes pair, meanwhile, were down in 14th and 15th as Hamilton pipped Russell, the seven-time champion fighting snaps of oversteer induced by the high wind speeds.

Alpine’s Fernando Alonso was, at that time, the quickest driver fitted with hard tyres – the two-time champion running ninth and 0.9s faster than Hamilton on the same C1 white-walled rubber.

Then came a mid-session lull – notable for Sainz locking into the chicane and blaming it on Leclerc a few metres up the road – as most settled in for race stints and dropped several seconds off the pace.

But as the final 30 minutes kicked off, several cars gunned it for the top of the leaderboard again, with the Ferraris jumping to first and second on a set of fresh, red-walled soft tyres.

Sainz deposed Verstappen by some 1.085s as he bolted to a 1m30.965s and as per the wet running, found a few tenths over Leclerc who buzzed the timing line in 1m31.388s.

Verstappen’s older time was still good enough for third behind the red cars, though, as Alonso improved to fourth, running the Alpine 1.588s off the pace but on the slower medium compound. Stablemate Esteban Ocon did similar, as he slotted into fifth on the same tyre.

Verstappen, running out of step with the other frontrunners, later emerged on a set of medium tyres and impressively ran second, lapping only 0.351s shy of Sainz with 15 minutes to go.

But the Dutch driver did still improve on his earlier soft-shod effort by some seventh tenths.

After another fallow period as drivers returned to the pits, the final nine minutes brought the arrival of qualifying simulations as the field changed tack to focus on soft-tyre glory runs.

Leclerc used his new boots to set the fastest time in the first sector and with two personal best runs through S2 and S3, retook second as he ran 0.015s than Sainz’s existing time.

The Spaniard then failed to improve with five minutes left on the clock, Sainz dropping half a tenth apiece in sectors two and three compared his earlier benchmark.

Verstappen then fought back with purple runs across the board to retake first place courtesy of a 1m30.671s, duly finding three tenths over the Ferraris and 0.8s over the Mercedes.

With no late improvements, Verstappen remained top of the tree over the Ferraris as Alonso ended the session in fourth, running 0.649s adrift but keeping Perez at arm’s length.

The second Red Bull driver ran to fifth but some 0.843s slower than his team-mate as Russell headed the Mercedes duo in sixth to pip Hamilton and Norris.

Ocon, meanwhile, clocked ninth as Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) completed the top 10. Ricciardo wound up 11th ahead of Alex Albon in the Williams.

Mick Schumacher, who crashed on an in-lap in FP1 to miss the entirety of FP2 owing to a chassis change, followed Haas teammate Kevin Magnussen home in 16th.

Pierre Gasly, who this morning was announced as an Alpine driver for 2023 and will be replaced at AlphaTauri by Nyck de Vries, completed the order in 20th. 

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Japanese GP Free Practice 3:

Cla Driver Chassis Laps Time Gap Interval km/h
1 Netherlands Max Verstappen
Red Bull 22 1'30.671 230.561
2 Spain Carlos Sainz
Ferrari 27 1'30.965 0.294 0.294 229.815
3 Monaco Charles Leclerc
Ferrari 27 1'30.980 0.309 0.015 229.777
4 Spain Fernando Alonso
Alpine 20 1'31.320 0.649 0.340 228.922
5 Mexico Sergio Perez
Red Bull 25 1'31.514 0.843 0.194 228.437
6 United Kingdom George Russell
Mercedes 28 1'31.530 0.859 0.016 228.397
7 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes 25 1'31.589 0.918 0.059 228.250
8 United Kingdom Lando Norris
McLaren 27 1'31.747 1.076 0.158 227.857
9 France Esteban Ocon
Alpine 22 1'31.750 1.079 0.003 227.849
10 Canada Lance Stroll
Aston Martin 25 1'31.838 1.167 0.088 227.631
11 Australia Daniel Ricciardo
McLaren 28 1'31.860 1.189 0.022 227.576
12 Thailand Alex Albon
Williams 26 1'31.946 1.275 0.086 227.363
13 Finland Valtteri Bottas
Alfa Romeo 24 1'31.971 1.300 0.025 227.302
14 Germany Sebastian Vettel
Aston Martin 25 1'32.222 1.551 0.251 226.683
15 Denmark Kevin Magnussen
Haas 23 1'32.290 1.619 0.068 226.516
16 Germany Mick Schumacher
Haas 24 1'32.366 1.695 0.076 226.330
17 Japan Yuki Tsunoda
AlphaTauri 26 1'32.377 1.706 0.011 226.303
18 China Zhou Guanyu
Alfa Romeo 24 1'32.385 1.714 0.008 226.283
19 Canada Nicholas Latifi
Williams 26 1'32.868 2.197 0.483 225.106
20 France Pierre Gasly
AlphaTauri 24 1'32.881 2.210 0.013 225.075

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