Lewis Hamilton wrested back control of the practice times for Mercedes while Ferrari slumped to last leading into qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.
Title leader Hamilton took the top spot after a chaotic final-minutes dash for a fast lap that saw the entire field to take to the track at once. The messy end to the session meant neither teammate Valtteri Bottas nor Max Verstappen were able to set representative times behind Hamilton, leaving Renault’s Esteban Ocon and McLaren’s Lando Norris second and third, 0.2s and 0.3s respectively adrift.
Alex Albon was fourth quickest for Red Bull Racing, the Thai driver just under half a second off the pace. Valtteri Bottas followed less than a tenth behind in the second Mercedes, but the Finn’s fastest lap attempt was written off at the first corner, where a lock-up on cold tires preceded a massive moment of oversteer on the exit curbs.
Verstappen finished the session sixth, the Dutchman bailing on what should have been his flying lap thanks to the volume of traffic in the final sector of his out lap.
Although the final practice session did little to dispel forecasts for another Hamilton-Bottas fight for pole, differing aero configurations on the Mercedes and Red Bull Racing cars point to an interesting race, with the German marque running notably more downforce than most rivals to earn most of its advantage in the twisty middle sector of the otherwise flat-out circuit.
Daniel Ricciardo headed a tight battle for seventh, with Racing Point’s Lance Stroll and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz less than 0.033s in arrears. Sergio Perez completed the top 10 for Racing Point, 0.9s off the pace to set up a decidedly mixed picture for qualifying.
But notably absent from contention is Ferrari, dominant at this circuit last season but outright slowest in FP3. The Italian team slipped backwards from its already disappointing Friday showing to have Charles Leclerc finish 17th and Sebastian Vettel 20th, 1.8s and 2.1s respectively off the pace. The Scuderia is a real risk of seeing one or both cars eliminated in Q1 during qualifying this afternoon.
Ahead of the ailing red cars were AlphaTauri teammates Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat, closely matched in 11th and 12th. Williams rookie Nicholas Latifi was classified 13th ahead of Haas duo Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean.
Kimi Raikkonen, equipped with new power unit parts fitted on Saturday morning, was 16th fastest ahead of Leclerc, with George Russell and Antonio Giovinazzi 18th and 19th ahead of Vettel.
Having first joined the F1 press corps in 2012 by what he assumed was administrative error, Michael has since made himself one of the few Australian regulars in the press room. Graduating in print journalism and later radio, he worked his way from community media to Australia’s ABC Grandstand as an F1 broadcaster, and his voice is now heard on the official Australian Grand Prix podcast, the F1 Strategy Report and Box of Neutrals. Though he’d prefer to be recognized for his F1 expertise, in parts of hometown Melbourne his reputation for once being sick in a kart will forever precede him.
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Scuderia Ferrari, Formula 1, Sebastian Vettel, Belgian Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton, Red Bull Racing, Max Verstappen, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team
World news – US – Hamilton at the top, Ferrari at the bottom in third Belgian GP practice
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