FP3: Vettel in charge as Sirotkin crash halts session
He failed to string a proper lap together on Friday, but there were no such problems for Sebastian Vettel in Saturday’s final Azerbaijan practice. The four-time world champion topped the times with ease – though a late crash for Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin cost rivals a few minutes’ running.
The Prancing Horse have been fastest in the third practice session 13 times in the last 23 weekends, including all three previous races in 2018 – and Vettel narrowly edged Lewis Hamilton by 0.361s while Kimi Raikkonen came home in P3 less than a tenth behind the reigning world champion.
Valtteri Bottas was running well in P4 before Red Bull bounced back in the final moments of the session as Max Verstappen’s late throw of the dice moved him ahead of the Finn by 0.050s. There was then a four-tenths’ gap back to Force India’s Sergio Perez and Haas’s Kevin Magnussen in sixth and seventh respectively.
Around a rather windy Baku City Circuit, Williams’ Lance Stroll, Force India’s Esteban Ocon, and the aforementioned Sirotkin completed the top ten.
Yesterday’s session provided us with plenty of lock-ups, and we didn’t have to wait too long for grip to be tested in FP3. Fifteen minutes, in fact. And again, it was Brendon Hartley who found himself in a run-off area – the Kiwi safely returning to the track after locking up at Turn 15.
But it wasn’t just Hartley to find difficultly with the slippery conditions and wind, which played a key role in the final hour of practice. Romain Grosjean struggled with oversteer, overcooking it into Turn 15 and going into the run-off area, and then later spinning his Haas around at Turn 16.
There were similarly hairy moments for Bottas at Turn 7 and Ocon at Turn 16, but the biggest moment of all was reserved for Williams' Sergey Sirotkin.
The Russian had been quietly going about his business quietly before ripping the front-right corner off his Williams with nine minutes to go after getting it all wrong and running into the wall at Turn 3. His crew are thus left with a lot of repair work to do given the short two-hour window between FP3 and qualifying.
Team mate Stroll, by contrast, had a more positive session. At the track on which he scored his maiden podium finish last year, the young Canadian appeared to initially struggle in FP3, complaining of issues with the handling of his FW41. But he was ultimately able to finish the session on a relative high with a P8 result, raising the prospect of a much more positive qualifying session for the British team.
Who will take the spoils in qualifying? Ferrari suddenly look the favourites once more - but Mercedes will no doubt be boosted by their FP3 showing. It is the first time the Silver Arrows have finished in the top two in final practice this season.