Verstappen edges out Albon once again


Ahead of today's sole practice session the air temperature is 20 degrees C, while the track temperature is 40 degrees. It is bright and sunny, quite beautiful in fact.

Max Verstappen set the pace in both of yesterday's sessions, the second of which was slightly compromised by a couple of rain showers.

However, the Dutchman didn't have it all his own way, with the Top 8 covered by just under 0.4s.

While Lewis Hamilton complains of a "night and day" difference between the W14 he drove in Austin and yesterday, the Briton also admitted surprise at the pace of a couple of 'stranger's to the Top 10, most notably Bottas and Ocon, while Albon looked strong for much of the day.

Other than the weather, the need for five teams to run rookies in the opening session, combined with testing of Pirelli's proposed 2024 C4 compound, meant that attention was somewhat distracted, though this shouldn't be an issue this afternoon.

A number of teams had issues yesterday, most notably Alfa Romeo and Williams, which ended FP2 with both cars in the garage. It was a bad day for Aston Martin, with Alonso suffering a number of issues and Stroll losing time due to a stuck tyre.

Other than Red Bull, McLaren looked strong, while neither Ferrari or Mercedes looked totally convincing. In terms of the Silver Arrows, following last week's disqualification, it will be interesting to see how well those upgrades perform on a 'legal' car.

Having taken on a new engine and gearbox, Tsunoda will start tomorrow's race from the back of the grid.

The lights go green but it is a couple of minutes before the first car emerges... Bottas, in the Alfa Romeo, who enjoyed a nice little scrap with Verstappen during the practice starts that followed FP2.

He is followed by the Aston Martin pair. Bottas in on hards, as is Stroll, while Alonso is on mediums.

As Stroll pits, Sainz heads out and Bottas posts a benchmark 20.740.

Alonso also pits without posting a time, as Sainz and Leclerc trade fastest sectors.

Sainz posts a 19.449 but his teammate responds with a 19.283.

Tsunoda and Norris head out as the cameras pick up on Bottas really struggling with his car in Turns 10/11.

Tsunoda goes third with a 20.520 as Hamilton, Piastri and Russell head out.

A 19.214 sees Hamilton go quickest, while Norris goes fourth with a 19.506 despite running slightly wide in the final corner.

Quickest in all three sectors, Russell goes top with an 18.644.

Out come the yellows when Gasly spins at Turn 12.

0.570s down on his teammate, Hamilton is told that he's losing out in Turns 4 and 5.

The majority of the fastest times are on the softs, with Ocon (currently eighth) the first of the mediums runners and Bottas (ninth) first of the hards.

After 16 minutes we've yet to see the Bulls, the Williams, the Haas pair or Ricciardo.

A lot of drivers are complaining of a lack of grip and sliding, this being due to the hotter temperatures today and the greenness of the track which is little used over the course of the year.

Stroll goes seventh, ahead of Ocon, Tsunoda, Gasly and Bottas as the Bulls finally head out.

"Rear grip feels pretty terrible," reports Piastri, as Sainz vents his frustration after encountering a slow Bottas on the racing line.

Perez goes quickest in the first sector, but from there on loses time, finally crossing the line at 19.372 to go fourth, the Mexican subsequently demoted when his teammate goes second with an 18.717.

Sargeant goes sixth with a 19.389 while teammate Albon goes eighth on the mediums.

Ricciardo finally heads out with 35 minutes remaining, the Australian, other than Magnussen, the only driver yet to post a time. The Dane seemingly having reported a handling issue.

On his first flying lap Ricciardo goes fourth with a 19.235... on the mediums! Indeed, the Australian was quickest in the final Stadium section.

An 18.787 sees Perez go third as his teammate goes top with an 18.429.

While Magnussen is the only driver still to post a time, the Alfa Romeo pair have yet to use anything other than hards as they appear to be focussing purely on Sunday afternoon.

"Unfortunately that left rear wheel is damaged and cannot be used, so he only has one FP3 set to use," says Haas of Magnussen's issue. "He'll remain in the garage a little longer before putting on the new set towards the end of the session."

Alonso improves to 11th on the mediums, while teammate Stroll goes twelfth, the Canadian subsequently reporting that his tyres are "done".

With just over 20 minutes remaining, and ahead of the qualifying sims, there are just four drivers on track, Leclerc, Sainz, Sargeant and Albon.

"If we have time we go back to the previous setting," says Alonso.

On fresh softs, Albon goes quickest in the first two sectors, finally crossing the line at 17.957. Teammate Sargeant goes fourth with an 18.718.

"I messed up Turn 2," admits Norris, "I got a bit distracted."

Bottas goes quickest in S1, the Finn finally crossing the line at 18.437 to go third.

Now Piastri goes quickest in S1, however it is the final two sectors that sort the men from the boys. As it were.

Norris goes fourth with an 18.480, while a poor final sector sees Piastri go tenth with a 19.075.

Hamilton improves to sixth and Ricciardo seventh, both over 0.5s off the pace.

An 18.917 sees Zhou go tenth.

"Still Turns 4 and 5 is your biggest loss," Hamilton is told when he enquires where he is losing out to his teammate.

Verstappen goes quickest in S1 as Perez heads out. The Dutchman posts a PB in S2, finally crossing the line at 17.887 to go top by 0.070s.

To the delight of the crowd Perez goes quickest in S1. As Verstappen complains about traffic, Perez crosses the line at 18.026 to go third.

With 8 minutes remaining Magnussen finally heads out again.

Hulkenberg goes 14th while Tsunoda improves to 10th with an 18.671.

Both Ferrari drivers post PBs in the first sector, Leclerc losing a heap of time when he encounters a slow Magnussen. Meanwhile, Sainz is impeded by the other Haas driver, causing the Spaniard to spin.

"These guys, these guys," fumes Sainz.

"I didn't know he was coming," says Magnussen. "Well I did warn you about it," he is told.

Indeed, replay shows that Stroll was almost caught up in the silliness and had to take avoiding action.

The incident involving Sainz and Stroll has been noted, though not Hulkenberg's involvement.

PBs in all three sectors sees Tsunoda go seventh with an 18.450.

As a result of all that, Leclerc and his teammate are down in 14th and 15th.

The session ends. Verstappen i quickest, ahead of Albon, Perez, Russell, Piastri, Bottas, Tsunoda, Norris, Ricciardo and Hamilton.

Sargeant is eleventh, ahead of Zhou, Leclerc, Stroll, Sainz, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Gasly, Magnussen and Ocon.

Difficult sessions for both Aston Martin and Alpine, while Ferrari will be ruing its double close encounter with the Haas pair.

While Verstappen clearly has the edge - again, it will be interesting to see what Albon and Bottas can do in qualifying.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Mexico City here.

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Published: 28/10/2023
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