FP3: Vettel fastest again as Bottas splits Ferraris
In the final running in Hungary before the teams switch into qualifying mode, Sebastian Vettel topped his second consecutive session, finishing Saturday's final practice in Hungary with a new outright circuit record of 1m 16.170s, just ahead of the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas...
It was an edgy session for Mercedes, with both Bottas and Lewis Hamilton spinning their W09 cars at the Turn 6 chicane as they struggled to find a balance around the Hungaroring – Bottas ending up sliding gently sideways into the Armco barrier before continuing. Despite their issues, Bottas at least showed that there’s pace in the car, finishing just 0.059s adrift of Vettel.
There was a mirror image behind those drivers, with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen third ahead of Hamilton, who complained to his Mercedes engineer Pete Bonnington during the session that he was lacking grip.
Red Bull, who showed session-leading pace yesterday before stating their intention to make the first two rows of the grid in qualifying, weren’t quite there in FP3, with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen in fifth and sixth. They were six- and seven-tenths respectively down on the front-running pace, Ricciardo bemoaning both understeer and engine braking issues on his RB14. They’ll be hoping to right that going into qualifying, with the team knowing that Hungary marks one of the best chances to add a fourth victory to their tally in the 2018 season.
Leading the midfield were the Renaults of Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg in P7 and P8, ahead of Romain Grosjean in the Haas – the Frenchman having been best of the rest in FP2 yesterday – while Pierre Gasly showed that Toro Rosso were in the mix too, slotting into P10.
That Haas-Toro Rosso pattern was repeated for P11 and P12, with Kevin Magnussen in the sister Haas leading the second Toro Rosso of Brendon Hartley.
Charles Leclerc headed Sauber’s charge in P13, while Fernando Alonso led McLaren’s efforts in 14th, within a tenth of Leclerc’s time.
Much of the talk in the paddock this morning was dominated by the news of Force India going into administration, and with that cloud hanging over the team, it appeared to be an unhappy session for them, with Esteban Ocon ending up P15, while Sergio Perez was 19th. However, analysis of the long-run pace from FP2 yesterday suggests that Force India had the fastest midfield car in race trim, so maybe they won’t be too worried.
Behind Ocon, Sergey Sirotkin led Williams’ attack in P16, while Stoffel Vandoorne, in his ‘new-old’ McLaren chassis was P17, around three-tenths away from his team mate and ahead of the second Sauber of Marcus Ericsson. Then came Perez, while Lance Stroll completed the order in P20 for Williams.
So Ferrari look clear favourites for pole, their car appearing far more at home here than the Mercedes, with Red Bull seemingly another small step back. But with the Hungaroring punishing even the smallest of errors, don't count anyone out yet.