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FP3 offers hope of qualifying surprises


Ahead of today's sole practice session the air temperature is 29 degrees C, while the track temperature is 45 degrees. It is bright and sunny... however, for tomorrow there is serious talk of showers, and when it rains in Florida... it's serious rain.

George Russell led a Mercedes 1-2 in yesterday's opening session, but by the afternoon both he and his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, had slipped down the timesheets as the true pace of the W14 became clear, a feeling the seven-time champion likened to a "kick in the gut".

We say "true pace" because from the outset the new asphalt has been constantly evolving making it not only difficult to get a handle on the true pecking order but to remain on the black stuff should one wander just a millimetre off-line.

Nico Hulkenberg and Charles Leclerc both discovered the hard way just how unforgiving this track can be, while along the way there were numerous other incidents.

Fernando Alonso has warned of little overtaking tomorrow, which means that a good grid position will be vital.

Talking of Charles Leclerc, there was an alarming incident yesterday, when the Porsche Supercup event got underway while the trailer carrying the Monegasque's Ferrari was still on track and making its way back to the pits. It would appear that previous lessons - sometimes fatal lessons - have not been learned. Stuff the celebrities, the "vibes" and the "lucrative" movie, let's focus on safety.

With Leclerc's off coming in the midst of the high fuel runs yesterday, drivers may wish to make up for that lost running this morning.

The lights go green and Ocon leads the way, followed by Stroll, Alonso and Hamilton.

Though there are only four drivers on track, all three compounds are in use.

Hamilton is already complaining about his tyres vibrating.

Ocon gets things underway with a 31.125, as the Ferrari pair head out. Hamilton can only manage a 31.147.

Sainz tops the clock at 30.748 and Leclerc 31.050.

As Gasly posts a 30.299, Perez goes quickest in the first two sectors, finally crossing the line at 29.266.

The Mexican is on softs, while Gasly and Ocon are on mediums.

Verstappen, on softs, posts a 28.963 to go top.

A lock-up for Hamilton who subsequently runs wide.

Leclerc (softs) goes second with a 29.057 as Russell posts a 29.593 to go fifth.

16 minutes in and only 11 drivers have posted time, among those yet to show are the McLaren, Williams and Haas pairs.

Verstappen ups the ante with a 27.969, while Alonso goes third with a 29.009 on the mediums.

Bottas goes eighth, ahead of Ocon, Hamilton, Stroll and Zhou.

Albon runs wide in Turn 17. "You have to remind me to reset switches," he subsequently complains, the Williams driver suffering constant front-locking.

Ocon does well to avoid a dawdling Magnussen on the racing line. The Frenchman makes clear his frustration.

In quick succession Alonso and Hulkenberg have moments, The Spaniard at Turn 17, the German at Turn 7.

"The grip is picking up massively," reports Ocon.

"Balance is ok, just struggling for overall pace," reports Russell, who is currently 10th, as Hulkenberg improves to eleventh.

Stroll improves to sixth on the softs as Albon posts a 29.158 to go eighth.

Verstappen improves to 27.669, extending the gap to Sainz to 0.456s.

Just after half-time and the McLaren are 17th (Piastri) and 19th.

"Lots of vibration on the steering," complains Russell, which is exactly the issue he suffered yesterday. The Mercedes pair are currently 10th (Hamilton) and 11th.

Clearly suffering understeer, Hamilton improves to fifth with a 28.724, but remains over a second off the pace.

Alpine being the last to fit the red-banded rubber, Gasly goes fourth (28.487) and Ocon tenth (29.064).

Piastri improves to fourteenth as McLaren continues to struggle. Indeed, teammate Norris runs wide in Turn 4.

"We seem to be losing more on the straights," reports Hamilton.

With 15 minutes remaining, attention will soon switch to the qualifying sims.

"Just lacking front end and high speed now," says Ocon.

Verstappen improves to 27.595 as Russell goes fifth with a 28.606.

Having set a PB in the first sector, traffic subsequently causes Alonso to abort his lap.

No such issues for Albon however as the Williams driver goes fifth with a 28.561, only to be demoted when Bottas bangs in a 28.456.

"I cannot get through Turn 2, so much hopping," reports Russell.

Another improvement from Verstappen (27.535) as Magnussen goes eighth with a 28.607.

With the track constantly evolving, as was the case yesterday it very much depends on the timing of one's lap, a factor that will be vital in qualifying.

Ocon improves to fourth with a 28.407 as Tsunoda complains of understeer. "It's incredible," he moans.

Hulkenberg improves to seventh with a 28.497 as Sainz heads out on fresh softs.

"I'm really struggling to drive this at the moment," says Sargeant. "The balance is all over the place." The American rookie is not the only one.

With his teammate 13th, Russell continues to struggle, the Briton appearing to abort in the opening sector.

Meanwhile, Perez goes second with a 28.050, closing the gap to his teammate to 0.515s.

Gasly and Piastri almost collide in the pitlane.

A 27.941 sees Leclerc go second, nonetheless the Ferrari driver remains 0.406s off the pace.

As the session ends all twenty drivers are on track. Verstappen takes the opportunity to scrub a set of softs.

"Yeh, tyres overheat..." sighs Leclerc as Russell has a major wobble.

The session ends. Verstappen is quickest, ahead of Leclerc, Perez, Sainz, Ocon, Gasly, Bottas, Hulkenberg, Albon and Russell.

Magnussen is eleventh, ahead of Alonso, Hamilton, Stroll, Zhou, Tsunoda, Sargeant, Piastri, Norris and de Vries.

Though it is pretty much business as usual as far as the top four are concerned, some of the other names in the leading ten are the sort of thing that will have Stefano and the boys purring.

Bottas, Hulkenberg and Albon... and how on earth did the Alpines get fifth and sixth, especially after the shockers they endured at the last couple of races.

One gets the feeling that Miami could spring a few surprises in qualifying, and looking at Verstappen's pace we need it.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Miami here.


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