Max Verstappen offered Red Bull a commanding lead over Mercedes in the final dress rehearsal before this afternoon’s French Grand Prix qualifying.
The Dutchman enjoyed a 0.747s margin over Valtteri Bottas in FP3, while Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz set the third fastest lap ahead of Sergio Perez.
Lewis Hamilton was P4, outpaced by Verstappen by almost a full second, a significant margin that will be difficult for the Briton to claw back in qualifying.
2021 French Grand Prix Free Practice 3 – Results
It was a leisurely start to the final practice session with the track remaining dead silent during the first ten minutes, until Haas’ Nikita Mazepin finally disrupted the stillness.
The Russian was followed out of the pits by teammate Mick Schumacher, with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon making it a three-car crowd.
Progressively, more drivers emerged as Mazepin indulged in his first spin of the day at Turn 2. Ocon, teammate Fernando Alonso and Red Bull’s Perez took turns at the top of the time sheet until Hamilton overhauled the group.
But the Briton was himself outdone in short order by Bottas who was himself beaten by Verstappen who went top on the soft tyre with a 1m32.337s that edged the Finn by an infinitesimal 0.009s.
Both men pressed on, but an improved flyer by Verstappen was deleted after the Red Bull charger exceeded track limits at Turn 6 which allowed Bottas to jump ahead with a 1m32.309s.
Meanwhile, in-form AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly popped up among the top four, just behind Hamilton. But the Briton then moved up to second to put Mercedes 1-2 with 25 minutes to go.
But as the session entered its final stages, the action ramped up. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz produced a time that was good enough for P2 while Verstappen’s best effort – a 1m31.300s – propped up the Dutchman to P1, a whopping 0.747s ahead of Bottas!
Behind the top three, Perez stood 4th ahead of Hamilton and McLaren’s Lando Norris as positions remained unchanged in the final minutes of FP3, with Verstappen comfortably leading the field.
Alpine’s Alonso and Ocon, Gasly and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo rounded off the top ten, while Leclerc concluding the session just outside of the top ten.
Aston Martin drivers Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel lined up respectively P13 and P14 as the team appeared to focus on its race performance rather than on its qualifying speed.
Verstappen’s commanding margin over Mercedes’ chargers bodes well for the Red Bull driver’s performance this afternoon. But can the Black Arrows pair fight back, or will an outsider throw a spanner in the works of both teams? Check back later to find out…
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