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Norris quickest in inconclusive final session

NEWS STORY
09/04/2022

Ahead of today's sole practice session the air temperature is 24.6 degrees C, while the track temperature is 32 degrees. It is somewhat overcast with a 20% chance of rain.

Ferrari set the pace in both of yesterday's sessions, with Carlos Pace leading the way in FP1 and Charles Leclerc in the afternoon.

The Monegasque had the benefit of a new diffuser in the afternoon session, but as the team only has one available, and in the interests of fairness, neither will have access to it for the remainder of the weekend.

Red Bull is a "little way off" Ferrari's pace but sure it can catch up, while, according to Lewis Hamilton, nothing that Mercedes tries appears to work.

Alpine looked strong, while McLaren, Alfa Romeo and AlphaTauri looked good.

Since yesterday's session the FIA has removed the DRS zone between Turn 8 and before Turn 9 for safety reasons. Therefore, DRS detection 1 has been moved to before Turn 9, while DRS activation 1 is after Turn 10. DRS detection 2 remains unchanged.

It is understood that Fernando Alonso was behind the decision, which was based on safety concerns.

Seemingly the issue was raised at an extended driver briefing on Friday, most of which was actually dedicated to the subject of jewellery, Lewis Hamilton understood to have been extremely active. Another topic discussed was driver underwear... we kid you not. Indeed, Christian Horner described the meeting as "entertaining".

The lights go green and the Alfa pair lead the way, followed by Magnussen and Albon.

As more drivers head out all three compounds are in use, though the drivers are merely completing install laps as opposed to times.

That said, Norris (softs) posts the first time of the day, the McLaren driver stopping the clock at 21.247.

At which point Verstappen and Vettel head out, the German having missed FP2 after suffering an engine issue in the earlier session.

On mediums Verstappen posts a 21.178, with teammate Perez posting a 21.024 moments later.

Russell heads out and on the softs it is noticeable that he is weaving on the pit straight. Hopefully, his time of 31.176 is exploratory.

Leclerc (medium) goes quickest with a 20.689 as Russell improves to 21.310.

On board with Sainz and the Spaniard is taking a real battering as the car porpoises.

Ricciardo goes second (20.399) on the softs, as Sainz posts a 20.390.

A 20.119 sees Alonso go top, as Gasly, Stroll and Tsunoda remain the only drivers yet to appear.

Interestingly, despite all the bouncing on the straight, under braking the Ferrari settles down.

Hamilton runs wide and through the gravel at Turn 10, just lightly brushing the barrier, while moments later Vettel runs wide at the same corner though he hits the barriers.

"Sorry guys," says the German as the session is red flagged. The weekend goes from bad to worse for the four-time champion. "I lost the car, reasonably bug shunt," he adds.

With 35:00 remaining, it's: Alonso, Sainz, Ricciardo, Perez, Bottas, Leclerc, Russell, Verstappen, Norris and Ocon.

Meanwhile, it is revealed that the reason for Stroll's no show is down to the late removal of that DRS zone, a move which left a number of teams having to make last adjustments to their cars.

The session resumes with 29:00 remaining.

Gasly heads a long queue of cars at the end of the pitlane but as the lights go green Verstappen wastes no time in by-passing the Frenchman. Indeed, the stewards have noted the Dutchman's move.

To add to his woes, Verstappen spins at the penultimate corner.

Alonso and Bottas are trading fastest sectors, the Finn goes 5th with a 20.304 while the Spaniard consolidates his top spot with a 19.906.

Quickest in the first two sectors, Perez (softs) crosses the line at 19.720 to demote fellow Latin Alonso.

As Verstappen goes fifth (20.226), Russell runs wide at Turn 3.

Alonso retakes the top spot with a 19.660 demonstrating that the Alpine's pace is no fluke.

However, Sainz is on a hot lap, the Spaniard going purple in S1. However, he backs off after encountering traffic in S2.

Leclerc closes to within 0.043s of Alonso only to be demoted when Perez posts a 19.458.

The Mercedes pair are really struggling, Hamilton improves to 8th, albeit 0.924s off the pace, while Russell is down in 12th.

"Man, I nearly crashed because of Latifi," complains Sainz, "he cannot let me by in such a dangerous place."

Unlike the Ferrari, even under braking the Mercedes continues bouncing like a good 'un.

Nonetheless, Russell improves to 5th with a 20.096 - only to be demoted when Sainz goes quickest (19.419).

With just under 14 minutes remaining, attention will now focus on the qualifying sims.

Hamilton is told that he's losing four-tenths to Sainz in the final sector. Nonetheless, the seven-time champ improves to 6th with a 19.896.

From out of nowhere, Norris produces a 19.117 to go top, his only purple being in the final sector.

Running wide at Turn 6, Verstappen, on his first run on the softs, opts to abort the lap.

Reporting that it's really hot in his car, Gasly is told to pit. The Frenchman is currently 11th.

Another off for Hamilton, this time at Turn 9.

Ricciardo improves to fifth with a 19.693.

As Sainz runs wide in Turn 10, Verstappen aborts another flying lap as he overdoes it in Turn 1.

Leclerc improves to second with a 19.249, though his best sector (S3) was only a PB.

Oh dear, Aston Martin's day gets worse as Stroll is off and in the barriers at Turn 11.

"I just crashed," reports a dejected Canadian.

Race control reveals that the session will not be re-started.

Norris is quickest, ahead of Leclerc, Perez, Alonso, Sainz, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas and Tsunoda.

Russell is eleventh, ahead of Gasly, Ocon, Schumacher, Zhou, Albon, Magnussen, Latifi, Stroll and Vettel.

A patchy session what with the red flags, not to mention the traffic, offs, underwear and the rest.

As expected, the Ferraris are up there as are the Bulls, while Alonso could well cause a shock in the Alpine.

The McLarens continue to look good, as does Bottas, while every gain for the Mercedes pair is clearly hard fought.

And on to qualifying.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Melbourne, here.

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