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Verstappen sets FP3 pace

NEWS STORY
04/12/2021

Ahead of today's sole practice session the air temperature is 30 degrees C, while the track temperature is 36 degrees.

Hamilton set the pace in both of yesterday's sessions, however, other than the fact that Verstappen was closer than expected, the Dutchman looked good on the hards, while the world champion has yet to try them.

That said, today sees Mercedes fit Hamilton's car with the infamous 'rocket' engine, so it remains to be seen what difference that will make.

Off the pace in both sessions, Red Bull "desperately" needs Perez to up his game in order to assist his teammate.

While Gasly was predictably on the pace, so too were the Alpine pair, as the battle for fifth continues.

Ferrari continues to edge ahead of McLaren in the fight for 'best of the rest', however it remains to be seen how the Italian team's efforts are impacted by Leclerc's crash at the end of FP2.

Though the crash was the result of a mistake by the youngster, with an eye on the enormous differentials in speed between those cars on flying laps and those on cool downs or building up speed, the FIA has warned drivers not to slow between Turns 23 to 25 in order to create a gap.

Like FP1, due to the fact qualifying and the race takes place in the evening, this session is pretty much unrepresentative, though it will allow the teams to try out any changes made following yesterday's action and the data acquired.

The lights go green but there is no mad rush to work, other than Mazepin who heads down the pitlane.

With an eye on the traffic issues here we are likely to see drivers head out early in qualifying on order to secure a banker lap.

Schumacher and Raikkonen head out, like Mazepin, on softs.

As Mazepin posts the first time of the day, a 33.702, the Aston Martin duo head out, both on hards.

Schumacher posts a 33.374 and Raikkonen a 31.378.

Both Aston Martin drivers complete a sole untimed lap before returning to the pits.

Eight minutes in and Bottas is the first of the big guns to head out, his Mercedes shod with hards. Meanwhile, Raikkonen improves to 30.622.

Hamilton heads out shortly after his teammate, similarly running the white-banded rubber.

The appearance of the Mercedes duo is a trigger for a number of other drivers to head out, among them the Ferrari pair.

A 30.394 sees Bottas leapfrog countryman Raikkonen for the top spot.

As Perez heads out, on softs, Hamilton posts a very exploratory 56.655.

Raikkonen retakes the top spot with a 30.189.

Giovinazzi goes third (30.481), ahead of Sainz and Schumacher.

A 29.605 sees Hamilton go top as Verstappen (softs) finally heads out, watched by Father, Jos.

Bottas improves to second with a 29.988 as Verstappen appears to have an issue with his DRS, which appears to be open when it shouldn't be.

As the Dutch driver continues, albeit very slowly, Hamilton spins at Turn 1. "I knew that would happen," he sighs.

Finally Verstappen turns it on, and goes for a flying lap. Meanwhile, Perez goes quickest in S1.

At the line Verstappen posts a 29.863 to go third, while Perez bangs in a 29.511 to go top. Moments later however, Hamilton responds with a 29.197 and Bottas a 29.431.

Norris goes fourth and Sainz fifth, as Verstappen makes a mistake in Turn 5.

As Ricciardo goes 14th with a 30.730, only the Aston Martin pair have yet to post times.

As Hamilton improves to 28.314, Gasly goes quickest in S1. The Frenchman subsequently crosses the line at 28.715, 0.401 down on Hamilton, albeit on mediums.

Sainz improves to third but is demoted when Verstappen stops the clock at 28.649. He's 0.335s down on Hamilton but on the softs, as opposed to the hards on the Mercedes.

"Check the right-rear, maybe I touched the wall," says Tsunoda.

With 31:00 remaining, the Aston Martin pair head out again, on softs.

It's currently, Hamilton (hard), Verstappen (soft), Gasly (medium), Perez (soft), Tsunoda (medium) and Sainz (medium).

Vettel can only manage 17th and his teammate 18th, both struggling with understeer.

Ricciardo improves to ninth with a 29.724, as Verstappen goes quickest in S1. A PB in S2 is followed by another as the Dutchman crosses the line at 28.212 - on 9 lap old rubber.

The Mercedes pair head out on fresh softs, which should give us a better idea of where we stand.

Despite an almost clear track, Hamilton can only manage a PB in the opening sector before easing off, while Bottas can only manage 29.098 which puts him eighth.

"We think we have a puncture, so we're aborting," Stroll is told.

Told Verstappen's time and on what lap it was set, Hamilton responds, "I don't know what that means".

A nasty moment as Mazepin almost trips up over Hamilton. "You didn't tell me, I had no idea he was coming," says the Mercedes driver. This comes moments after Gasly had to take avoiding action to miss the Mercedes.

Undaunted, Gasly subsequently improves to third with a 28.715.

Verstappen also improves, crossing the line at 28.105, only a small improvement but every little helps.

Tsunoda improves to third with a 28.641, thereby making it an AlphaTauri 3-4.

Ocon, currently 13th, posts a PB in S1 but subsequently eases off.

Rocket engine or no rocket engine this is not what Mercedes was expecting, the W12 unable to turn its tyres on when needed.

At which point Verstappen improves to 28.100 and Perez to 28.629. A complete turnaround from yesterday when the Bulls struggled on the softs.

"Who is this f****** guy, what is he doing," shouts Raikkonen.

Ocon improves to ninth with a 29.177.

A late improvement sees Vettel go 16th with a 30.296. The German subsequently takes a very rough ride over the kerb and is almost beached.

Following a complaint from Haas, Michael Masi reveals that he has spoken to Mercedes about the earlier incident.

The session ends. Verstappen is quickest, ahead of Hamilton, Perez, Tsunoda, Gasly, Bottas, Leclerc, Sainz, Ocon and Norris.

Alonso is eleventh, ahead of Giovinazzi, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Stroll, Russell, Vettel, Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin.

To say that is not what we were expecting would be a massive understatement, for while it is entirely possible Mercedes has turned its engine down, it was clear both drivers were struggling in their attempts to turn their tyres on.

Meanwhile, there are no such issues for the Bulls which struggled on the softs yesterday, with both cars in the Top 3 and the AlphaTauris fourth and fifth, one has to wonder if Mercedes low rake approach is hurting.

Qualifying is going to be fascinating.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Jeddah, here.

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