Spanish GP 2024

JUNE 22, 2024

Practice 3 Report - Tensions soar as Sainz tops practice

Carlos Sainz, Spanish GP 2024
© Ferrari

Carlos Sainz set the fastest time in the final practice session for the Spanish Grand Prix, edging out fierce competition from Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc. With the top four teams separated by a mere 0.15 seconds, tensions are at an all-time high, underscored by an incident between Leclerc and Norris in the session’s closing moments.

Ferrari and Mercedes opted to save two sets of Soft tyres for FP3, while Red Bull and McLaren ran a set of Mediums early on before switching to Softs in the final 15 minutes. This strategic divergence came to a head during the low fuel runs, where Sainz emerged on top with a lap time of 1:12.382, just 0.03 seconds faster than Norris at 1:12.412. Sainz’s Ferrari teammate, Charles Leclerc, was not far behind with a lap of 1:12.757. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was also in the mix, posting a time of 1:12.456, just 0.074 seconds off the pace set by Sainz, indicating a fiercely competitive battle for pole position.

The final minutes of the session saw a dramatic escalation in on-track tensions. Lance Stroll nearly forced Lewis Hamilton off the track coming out of Turn 5, feeling impeded by the Mercedes driver. Shortly after, Charles Leclerc made light contact with Lando Norris after being blocked by the McLaren on the run up to Turn 6. Both incidents are under investigation by the stewards, with Leclerc potentially facing a grid penalty for avoidable contact.

McLaren remains a strong contender for pole, with Lando Norris matching Sainz’s time during his brief run on Soft tyres. However, his teammate, Oscar Piastri, struggled slightly, running wide at Turn 13 and dropping two wheels into the gravel. Piastri’s best lap time was 1:13.232, showing potential to challenge in qualifying despite his mistake.

Red Bull’s main focus was improving their performance in the second sector, where Verstappen had been losing up to 0.4 seconds to rivals on Friday. The overnight simulator work paid off, with Verstappen closing the gap significantly and positioning himself within striking distance of the leaders. Conversely, Sergio Pérez continued to struggle, finishing with a best time of 1:13.082, placing him seventh and 0.7 seconds off Sainz’s best time, making his participation in the front-row battle unlikely.

Mercedes also showed strong potential, especially with George Russell, who led the session during the early runs and finished fifth with a time of 1:12.533, 0.151 seconds off the lead. Lewis Hamilton, however, faced challenges with understeer in Turns 10 and 12, resulting in two off-track excursions and a sixth-place finish with a time of 1:12.728, 0.346 seconds behind Sainz.

Alex Albon was a surprise entry in the top ten, setting the eighth-fastest time in his Williams at 1:13.212. However, with teammate Logan Sargeant slowest of all at 1:14.002, it appears Albon was running a higher engine mode, suggesting his qualifying performance might not be as strong. Fernando Alonso rounded out the top ten for Aston Martin with a lap of 1:13.298, showing significant progress with their upgraded AMR24. Alpine drivers Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly were just outside the top ten, with times of 1:13.333 and 1:13.398 respectively, despite expecting a tough weekend. VCARB, introducing a massive upgrade package, struggled with poor balance, leaving Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda down the order with times of 1:14.102 and 1:14.238.

As qualifying looms, the battle for pole position is set to be one of the closest in recent memory, with Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull, and Mercedes all in contention. Every detail will be crucial as the teams prepare for a high-stakes session in Barcelona.