Russian GP 2017

APRIL 29, 2017

Practice 3 Report - The Grimace


By Dan Knutson

The grimaces of the bosses in the Mercedes pit told the story of Free Practice 3: Ferrari is faster. Scuderia teammates Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen outpaced the Mercedes duo of Valtteri Bottas. Would that order remain the same in the battle for pole position in qualifying later in the day?

The lineup for the weekend was: Mercedes - Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas; Red Bull TAG Heuer - Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen; Ferrari - Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen; Force India Mercedes - Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon; Williams Mercedes - Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll; McLaren Honda - Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne; Renault - Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer; Toro Rosso Renault - Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz; Haas Ferrari - Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen; Sauber Ferrari - Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein.

The Ferraris were quickest on Friday with Vettel turning a 1:34.120 on Pirelli's ultra soft tires, which was the fastest lap ever at the Sochi circuit. It beat the mark of 1:35.337 that Nico Rosberg clocked on super softs in Q2 last year.

But Vettel remained wary of the Mercedes challenge.

"They will be fine," he said. "It is circuit that suits them, they will be strong on Saturday."

Hamilton denied his team was sandbagging.

"We never sandbag, there's no benefit to sandbagging, ever," he said after posting the fourth best time on Friday. "I think Ferrari have done in the past but there is zero benefit for us to do so. We are trying to get the car to the optimum balance-wise and today has generally been a tricky day. The Ferraris definitely are quickest, as they have been all year so far, so we will work hard this evening and into tomorrow to try and see if we can pick up some pace."

It was another bright blue sunny day as Magnussen got things rolling in FP3. The ambient temperature at the start of the 60-minute session was 66 degrees Fahrenheit (19 degrees Centigrade) and the track temperature was 93 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Centigrade).

Ricciardo, the first to have a run on the ultra soft Pirelli slicks, clocked a 1:37.547. Then Verstappen used the same compound to turn a 1:37.495.

More laps on the ultras. Vettel popped in a 1:34.933, quicker than Raikkonen, Bottas and Hamilton.

"There's about one second between all the compounds here, which should make the ultra softs the tire of choice for qualifying," Pirelli tweeted.

Bottas then did a 1:35.353, which moved him up to second place. Then Hamilton took the lead with a 1:34.828.

Midway through FP3 the top 10 were: Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Stroll, Verstappen, Massa, Sainz and Grosjean. Only the top seven had run the ultras at this stage.

It was taking a couple laps to get the best out of the ultra soft tires. Bottas took the lead with a 1:34.681. Then Hamilton started going quicker only to slide off the track. Raikkonen stayed on course to clock a 1:34.338. But Vettel topped that with a 1:34.001. Bottas then did a 1:34.660.

Vettel's next outing yielded a 1:34.054. Bottas got down to a 1:34.364, so he remained third, with Hamilton fourth at 1:34.542. Mercedes could not beat Ferrari.

Verstappen, Massa, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Sainz and Magnussen rounded out the top 10