Max Verstappen made it a clean sweep of practice session fastest laps as the Dutchman took top spot in final practice for the 2023 FIA Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, finishing an ominous six tenths of a second clear of Red Bull team-mate Sergio Pérez and almost a second ahead of the third-place Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso.
Run in daylight and in higher temperatures than those expected in Qualifying, the session got off to a slow start and it wasn’t until the 10-minute mark that the first really representative time was posted. That came from McLaren rookie Oscar Piastri, who posted a time of 1:32.531.
The Australian was then followed on track by a clutch of drivers and Alpine’s Pierre Gasly became the new pacesetter with a lap of 1:30.718s set on soft compound Pirelli tyres. Verstappen was already making his presence felt, however, and he went second behind his former team-mate, just 0.006s off the pace but on hard tyres.
A quarter way into the session, Mercedes’ George Russell took over at the top on soft tyres with a lap of 1:30.476, just 0.016s ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton who was running on the same compound. Gasly wasn’t finished, though, and the Frenchman jumped back to P1 with a lap of 1:30.161.
The Alpine driver’s return to P1 was brief, however, as Verstappen then made a seeming effortless step forward with a lap of 1:29.882 to oust the Alpine driver.
With 23 minutes gone, Pérez finally emerged for his first laps in anger on soft tyres and the Mexican immediately vaulted to the top of the order with a lap of 1:29.417, 0.329s faster than his team-mate, though on different rubber. Verstappen, still circulating on hard tyres, then lowered his personal best to 1:29.549 before retreating to the garage to prepare for his soft-tyre runs.
Gasly, too, was improving and he settled into third place with a lap of 1:29.701. Hamilton was on track, too, and he took fourth place with a lap of 1:29.819.
The switch to performance runs was then made and Pérez duly moved to the top of the order as he went purple in all three sectors to set a new benchmark of 1:29.127.
Further back Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg went fifth on a 1:29.933s, just ahead of Piastri who posted a good lap of 1:30.029 to take sixth ahead of Russell.
Having run hard tyres for the first part of the session, Aston Martin then showed its hand on soft tyres. Alonso jumped to third on a 1:29.568 with team-mate Lance Stroll taking fifth. Hamilton then went for another lap and bounced Alonso to fourth thanks to a lap of 1:29.568.
Verstappen then returned to the track and he wasted no time in blowing away his opposition with his first laps on softs. The Dutchman posted a time of 1:28.756 to take first place, three tenths clear of Pérez. The championship leader then went for another lap and lowered his best time to 1:28.660.
Alonso then used a second flyer of 1:29.483 to retake third though he was eight tenths down on Verstappen who then went quicker again, posting purple times in S1 and S3 to set a time of 1:28.485.
Ferrari were one of the last teams to send its drivers out on soft tyres and on their opening laps, the best Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz could do was P10 and P11 respectively. As the chequered flag was shown the pair went again and this time Leclerc clawed his way to sixth place behind Hamilton, while Sainz improved to P10 behind Gasly.
Elsewhere, there was trouble for Nyck de Vries. The Dutch driver was forced to sit out the session as an issue detected on his car forced AlphaTauri into a full power unit change.
2023 FIA Formula 1 Saudia Arabian Grand Prix – Free Practice 3
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Honda RBPT 1:28.485 20 251.188
2 Sergio Pérez Red Bull/Honda RBPT 1:29.098 0.613 15 249.460
3 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin/Mercedes 1:29.483 0.998 21 248.386
4 Lance Stroll Aston Martin/Mercedes 1:29.509 1.024 21 248.314
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:29.568 1.083 18 248.151
6 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:29.588 1.103 16 248.095
7 Lando Norris McLaren/Mercedes 1:29.690 1.205 18 247.813
8 Oscar Piastri McLaren/Mercedes 1:29.698 1.213 23 247.791
9 Pierre Gasly Alpine/Renault 1:29.701 1.216 19 247.783
10 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:29.761 1.276 16 247.617
11 George Russell Mercedes 1:29.811 1.326 19 247.479
12 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1:29.917 1.432 21 247.187
13 Nico Hülkenberg Haas/Ferrari 1:29.933 1.448 19 247.143
14 Esteban Ocon Alpine/Renault 1:29.953 1.468 19 247.089
15 Alexander Albon Williams/Mercedes 1:29.983 1.498 18 247.006
16 Logan Sargeant Williams/Mercedes 1:30.035 1.550 18 246.863
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 1:30.131 1.646 15 246.601
18 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1:30.317 1.832 20 246.093
19 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri/Honda RBPT 1:30.797 2.312 20 244.792