FP3: Bottas pips Hamilton to set sizzling pace in France
Mercedes retained their vice-like grip on the top of the timesheets in France as Valtteri Bottas headed Lewis Hamilton for a Silver Arrow one-two in Saturday's final practice – with rivals Ferrari struggling to hang on to their coattails…
This has been an extraordinary season for Mercedes so far, the reigning world champions winning all seven races to date. And that domination showed little sign of easing off at Paul Ricard as they set a commanding pace in Friday practice, with Bottas and team mate Lewis Hamilton sharing the spoils.
They continued that form in the final hour of practice on Saturday morning, with Bottas the quicker of the two Mercedes drivers as he set a track record of 1m 30.159s, to finish 0.041s ahead of Hamilton. Leclerc was the leading Ferrari, but he was nearly half a second adrift in third.
After the first runs on the soft tyres, it was Bottas who led the way by a quarter of a second to Hamilton, with Leclerc just 0.010s further back in third. What was clear from these runs is that drivers will be able to get two push laps out of the soft rubber in qualifying, providing they do one or two cool-down laps in between.
FORMULA 1 PIRELLI GRAND PRIX DE FRANCE 2019
Practice 3 results
|1 Valtteri Bottas BOT Mercedes||1:30.159|
|2 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes||+0.041s|
|3 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari||+0.446s|
|4 Sebastian Vettel VET Ferrari||+0.474s|
|5 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||+1.379s|
But Mercedes stretched their legs in the second runs, as the track improved, with Bottas getting down into the low 1m 30s. A mistake on his second push lap cost him the chance to improve again. In contrast, Hamilton ran off track in his first run, but got it together in the second to almost match his team mate.
There was reason to be hopeful at Ferrari, as while they couldn’t split the Mercedes, Vettel – who changed his seat mid-session – set the fastest middle sector while team mate Leclerc set the fastest first sector of all. Admittedly, they didn’t have the pace in the other two sectors, with Vettel catching traffic late on, but it shows that there is speed in the car if they can hook their best sectors together when it matters in qualifying.
A chasm opened up between Mercedes and Ferrari at the top and the rest, with Max Verstappen best of the rest in fifth, 1.379s off the pace and just under a tenth clear of Red Bull team mate Pierre Gasly. But they could be in for a battle with McLaren, with Lando Norris just 0.055s adrift in seventh as the orange cars continue to impress.
Daniel Ricciardo – running a spec B engine - gave Renault eighth on home soil, with McLaren driver and F1.com columnist Carlos Sainz and Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen completing the top 10.