Lewis Hamilton topped the final practice session of the weekend at the all new Baku City Street Circuit, in Azerbaijan, in what was the final chance for drivers to get to grips with the track ahead of the qualifying session later today.
There had been concerns over the safety of some features on the track on Friday and due to that the pit lane exit was widened – moving it further back and to the left, whilst some kerbs were reinforced overnight, following issues with them lifting up on Friday. Pirelli have also decided to reduce the tyre pressure restriction on rear tyres, dropping it to 21 psi, following recent complaints that the level was too high.
Hamilton set his first place time of 1:44.352 on the super soft tyres, and was clearly pushing the W07 to the limits as the Brit had a number of massive moments throughout the session. First of all a slide at Turn 13, one of the fastest corners on the track, which he managed to expertly save and then continue on, rather than finding himself in the wall, before again power sliding through Turn 16 as he pushed hard on his lap – the current world champion seemingly in rally mode today!
Hamilton finished two tenths up on Mercedes AMG PETRONAS team-mate Nico Rosberg, who had been leading the times for the majority of the session, as well as recording the fastest speed so far at 353 km/h, before Hamilton knocked the German off the top spot in the final stages of FP3.
Nico Hulkenberg was an impressive third in the first Sahara Force India, the German looking a force to be reckoned with here in Baku, with Daniel Ricciardo, who was pushing hard in the RB12 all session, taking fourth spot in the first of the Red Bull Racing machines.
Sebastian Vettel was fifth for Scuderia Ferrari, the German looking strong towards the end of the session, bit still 1.2 seconds off the pace of Hamilton’s benchmark time.
Sergio Perez was sixth in the second Sahara Force India. The Mexican was the first and last driver to touch the barriers at the notorious Turn 15. The first was the briefest of brushes, but the second was a much harder hit, as he smashed the right rear wheel off the VJM09 as the chequered flag fell to bring an end to the FP3 session. It was a shame for the Mexican who had been looking strong so far this weekend.
Max Verstappen was seventh in the second of the Red Bull runners, ahead of McLaren Honda F1 driver Jenson Button. The McLaren’s are still performing better that expected here at the Baku track, which features the longest straight on the F1 calendar.
Danill Kvyat was eleventh in the first of the Scuderia Toro Rosso’s, beating team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr, who was two places further back in twelfth, for the first time since moving back to the Faenza-based squad.
It was another disappointing session for Kimi Raikkonen in the Scuderia Ferrari, who midway through the session reported over team radio that he was getting no power coming out of the corners. The Finn was sat down in twentieth place at the time but returned to the pits for attention with twenty five minutes to go of FP3. The engine was deemed the cause of the issue, and as Raikkonen got out of the car, the mechanics worked on fixing the engine. The Finn was able to get back out on track with ten minutes of FP3 to go, and secured tenth place in the final moments.
Fernando Alonso was eleventh in the second McLaren, and although the Spaniard finished three places down on team-mate Button, the double world champion was only one tenth off the Brit’s pace. Alonso was just ahead of fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr in the Toro Rosso, who was two tenths up on Romain Grosjean in the first of the Haas F1 Team cars.
Felipe Massa, who had a lucky moment at Turn 13 when he got sideways and tagged the wall with the rear of the FW38, was fourteenth. The Brazilian returned to the pits for assessment, but luckily had not sustained any damage from that hairy moment and headed back out onto track but it was a disappointing session for the Williams Martini Racing team after their other driver Valtteri Bottas was unable to set any time at all, after a loose drain cover rose up and hit the FW38 as the Finn was coming into the pit lane following his installation lap.
The offending cover caused heavy damage to the FW38, destroying the radiator, and with the car in pieces as the engineers worked to repair it, it meant Bottas had to sit out the remainder of the session losing valuable track time ahead of this afternoon’s qualifying session. It was a highly frustrating situation for the Williams F1 team and Bottas, who had looked in good shape so far this weekend.
Esteban Gutierrez was fifteenth in the second Haas F1 car, ahead of the Renault Sport F1 Team car of Kevin Magnussen and the first Manor Racing Team car of Pascal Wehrlein.
Jolyon Palmer was eighteenth in the second Renault, after complaining of a sudden loss of grip throughout the session. The Brit was two tenths up on the two Sauber F1 cars of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr, with Rio Haryanto bringing up the rear of the field in twenty first after Bottas had been unable to set a time.
Can Red Bull and Ferrari bring the fight to Mercedes? Will Force India be able to pose a threat to the top teams? We are set for an interesting qualifying session later today!
Baku Street Circuit Free Practice 3 Result
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