Final practice poses more questions than answers


Ahead of today's practice session the air temperature is 29 degrees C, while the track temperature is 44 degrees.

As ever with these evening/night races, like FP1, this session is somewhat irrelevant since conditions are not truly representative of those that will be encountered in qualifying and the race.

To further complicate things, while nine teams had ten rookies on duty in yesterday morning's session, the afternoon session was disrupted by two red flag periods, therefore there has been limited running - especially race sims - for everyone especially the nine who handed their cars over in the morning.

Leclerc was quickest yesterday afternoon, ahead of Norris, Verstappen, Bottas, Perez, Russell, Zhou, Hamilton, Gasly and Piastri, but this is widely felt to not be that representative.

Meanwhile, following Verstappen's shenanigans in the pitlane, overtaking in the pitlane has now been banned. And quite right too!

While Verstappen and Red Bull have decided the titles there is still the little matter of runner-up in the constructors' - not to mention the three-way fight for seventh - and the three/four-way battle for fourth in the drivers' championship.

The lights go green but it is a minute or so before Stroll leads the way, followed by Hamilton, Alonso and Sainz.

Just four drivers but all three compounds are in use.

Stroll and Alonso both pit before heading straight back out, consequently Hamilton (soft) posts the first time of the day, a 26.612.

Sainz (medium) responds with a 26.609, as Leclerc and Hulkenberg head out, the Spaniard and German having been the cause of those red flags yesterday.

Leclerc goes third with a 26.795.

"The steering is quite a lot bent," reports Gasly.

A 25.417 sees Perez go quickest, ahead of Gasly, Sainz, Hamilton, Ocon, Leclerc, Zhou and Hulkenberg.

Hamilton improves with a 25.941 to take second, as Stroll goes quickest in S2, finally crossing the line at 25.912.

Alonso goes fourth with a 26.297 but is demoted when Norris goes second with a 25.850.

After 15 minutes only 11 drivers have posted time, with Ricciardo, Tsunoda and Piastri yet to appear.

Russell (soft) goes quickest in the opening two sectors, finally crossing the line at 25.163 to go top.

"The track just ramping up, yeah?" asks Hamilton. "Yes," He is told as Verstappen goes third with a 25.662.

"The rear's sliding a lot," complains the Dutchman.

Stroll reclaims third as Piastri goes fifth, as Leclerc and Sainz - ninth and tenth - are the only runners on mediums.

The AlphaTauris still yet to emerge.

Alonso improves to fourth with 25.543, the Spaniard keen to make up for last weekend's disappointment.

"Lots of bouncing, bottoming, I think, coming out of Turn 15," says Hulkenberg.

With 37 minutes remaining, the AlphaTauris finally head out as Albon goes seventh with a 25.768.

Quickest in the second sector, Verstappen goes second with a 25.358, albeit 0.529 down on Russell who has improved to 24.829.

"My steering is to the right again," complains Sargeant.

Tsunoda goes 11th with a 25.966, while a 26.220 sees teammate Ricciardo go 17th.

Piastri goes third with a 25.395, as Ocon goes eighth, ahead of Albon and Sargeant.

Ricciardo improves to 13th just behind his teammate, who subsequently slips the Williams pair with a 25.827.

Ahead of the qualifying sims, which will be left until the last possible moment due to the conditions, a number of drivers continue with heavier fuel loads.

The Ferrari pair still sticking with the mediums, Leclerc tucking himself in behind Hamilton on the back straight.

On fresh softs Ocon goes second (25.194), however Albon responds with a 24.929 having gone quickest in the first two sectors.

Gasly goes fifth with a 25.303, as Bottas takes full advantage of the run-off at Turn 9.

As Russell looks set to improve, Sargeant goes fourth with a 25.205.

Quickest in the final sector, Russell improves to 24.418.

Bottas improves to 11th with a 25.549.

Norris goes second (24.513) and Piastri third (24.908) as the qualifying sims get well and truly underway.

The sun is slowly beginning to set and the temperatures fall.

Alonso improves to eighth with a 25.343, the traffic not helping the Spaniard's cause. Indeed, he is leapfrogged by Zhou who posts a 25.258.

Posting a PB in the opening sector, a struggling Verstappen opts to abort his lap. Replay shows the rear of the RB19 sliding all over the place.

"The car is again bottoming, jumping," he says, "I don't know what is going on."

Finally on the red-banded rubber, Leclerc goes fifth with a 25.099. Teammate Sainz subsequently posts a 25.713 to go 19th. Interestingly, the Spaniard didn't have a traffic issue, nor did he abort the lap, he was simply too slow.

A 25.292 sees Hamilton go ninth, 0.874s off his teammate's pace.

Hulkenberg goes wide at Turn 9 and wonders if it was due to cold brakes.

Stroll runs wide in a bid to avoid a slow Ferrari.

Following some adjustments to his car, Verstappen improves to sixth with a 25.153, while Perez appears to abort his lap he improves to 11th with a 25.259.

Russell is quickest, ahead of Norris, Piastri, Albon, Leclerc, Verstappen, Ocon, Sargeant, Tsunoda and Zhou.

Perez is eleventh, ahead of Hamilton, Gasly, Alonso, Stroll, Bottas, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Magnussen and Sainz.

In all honesty, the last sixty minutes have posed more questions than answers, and while we are not doubting Russell's pace why the big difference to his teammate.

Likewise the Ferrari pair, while not forgetting Verstappen's struggles.

Indeed, in may ways it's a pity that this can't be used for tomorrow's grid as the order is well and truly mixed, with question marks over the true pace of a number of runners.

Hopefully, we'll get some answers in a couple of hours.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Yas Marina here.

Article from Pitpass (

Published: 25/11/2023
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