Charles Leclerc recorded the fastest time in the third practice session at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Saturday.
With the end of the session closing in he put in a time of 1:29.735, just 0.033s ahead of current champion, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen.
Third fastest was Sergio Perez’s, Red Bull’s second driver, and Ferrari closed out the top four with Carlos Sainz.
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Until that dramatic last effort, it had seemed that Red Bull would reassert their dominance after a catastrophic ending to their efforts in Bahrain last Sunday.
Verstappen had been looking likely to challenge Leclerc in the dying moments of the first race of the season but he suffered a fault with a fuel pump which led to him losing almost all his power in lap 54.
Three laps later with the race almost over, his teammate Sergio Perez spinning out and also failing to finish. That allowed Lewis Hamilton to claim a surprise third-place finish after struggling for much of the weekend.
Third fastest was Perez’s, Red Bull’s second driver, and Ferrari closed out the top four with Carlos Sainz.
While many expected Ferrari and Red Bull to again set the pace, former world champion Hamilton and his new teammate George Russell will be alarmed that they are even less competitive than they had been in Bahrain at last weekend’s season opener.
Neither Mercedes finished in the top 10 ahead of the afternoon’s qualifying session, as the seven-time world champion Hamilton limped into 11th, with Russell three places behind him.
Elsewhere in the top 10 there was a decent showing for Kevin Magnussen, who impressed last weekend despite returning to the American team Haas at short notice following the expulsion of Russian driver Nikita Mazepin.
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The session was overshadowed by a recent strike on a nearby oil depot as part of the ongoing armed class between Saudi Arabia and a Houthi group based in Yemen. There were reports that drivers were informed that it might be tough to leave the country if they did not fulfil their perceived obligations to complete the race event.
As a result, qualifying later on Saturday and Sunday’s race proper are still scheduled to go ahead as initially planned.
FP3 TOP 10
1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
5. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo)
6. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
7. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri)
8. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
9. Fernando Alonso (Alpine)
10. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)
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