Sebastian Vettel ended the final free practice session at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza with the fastest time, with Scuderia Ferrari using their speed advantage in a straight-line to continue their domination of the weekend in Italy.
Vettel edged Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen by just 0.032 seconds, while Mercedes AMG Motorsport’s Valtteri Bottas and the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc set identical times, finishing 0.109 seconds behind in third and fourth respectively.
Leclerc had been fastest in the two Friday sessions but admitted there was not really much to take away from the day, but the Monegasque racer was unable to beat Vettel in final practice, but will be looking to make it seven consecutive races of out-qualifying the four-time World Champion in Qualifying.
After two mixed practice sessions on Friday, teams and drivers would have been pleased to see blue skies at Monza, with everyone trying to make the most of the final hour of running before the all-important Qualifying session on Saturday afternoon.
However, with barrier repairs ongoing following Alex Peroni’s crash during the FIA Formula 3 race meant there was a ten-minute delay before track action began. The sausage kerb on the outside of Parabolica that launched Peroni into the barriers was removed prior to the session, and a number of drivers fell foul to track limits at the turn, including both Haas F1 Team drivers and Alexander Albon.
Lance Stroll was the first to set a lap time, the Racing Point F1 Team driver setting a 1:24.012, but this was quickly overcome by Carlos Sainz Jr., the McLaren F1 Team racer setting a 1:21.986. Sainz’s team-mate Lando Norris, running this weekend with a tribute helmet to MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi, was also out early and dipped his left side wheels into the gravel trap at the exit of the second chicane, not the quickest way to get around the lap!
It wasn’t long before the usual candidates were up front, with Vettel taking top spot initially from Leclerc, before the Monegasque racer went even quicker with a 1:20.452, 0.159 seconds clear. Verstappen’s first appearance of the day was delayed as Red Bull ensured there was nothing wrong with the installation of his new power unit, and his first flying lap moved him up to third, albeit by just 0.001 seconds from Hamilton.
With eleven minutes to go, Vettel went even faster with a time of 1:20.331 seconds as Leclerc ahead of him failed to improve, although he would have that time deleted in any case for exceeding the track limits at Parabolica.
Verstappen then was able to split the Ferrari’s, 0.032 seconds away from Vettel’s best, although the Dutchman is not going to be a factor in Qualifying, with his engine change dictating a back-of-the-grid start, as will Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and McLaren’s Norris. Gasly unveiled a tribute helmet of his own on Saturday, honouring his friend Anthoine Hubert, who tragically lost his life just seven days ago in the FIA Formula 2 feature race at Spa-Francorchamps.
Bottas was able to put his Mercedes into third with a time of 1:20.403, which was quickly matched by Leclerc, while Daniel Ricciardo was an excellent fifth for the Renault F1 Team, just 0.270 seconds off the outright pace of Vettel and 0.031 seconds ahead of reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton, who had a relatively quiet session in the second Mercedes.
Nico Hülkenberg, who will leave Renault at the end of the season as Esteban Ocon re-joins the Formula 1 grid in 2020 in his place, confirmed that the French team has some good pace this weekend at Monza by placing seventh, ahead of the second Red Bull of Alexander Albon, who was unable to match the pace of team-mate Verstappen, finishing half a second behind the Dutchman.
Antonio Giovinazzi had a quietly impressive session in ninth in the leading for Alfa Romeo Racing, with Daniil Kvyat completing the top ten for Scuderia Toro Rosso, ahead of the leading McLaren of Sainz, who could only improve his early time to a 1:20.949 by the end of the session.
Sergio Pérez was the leading Racing Point F1 Team driver in twelfth, ahead of the second Toro Rosso of Gasly and the second McLaren of Norris. Such was the closeness of the session, the fourteenth placed Norris was only 0.998 seconds off Vettel’s session-topping lap time, meaning Qualifying is going to be all important later this afternoon.
Kimi Räikkönen was half a second slower than Alfa Romeo team-mate Giovinazzi and could only end the session down in fifteenth, ahead of the two Haas F1 Team drivers, Kevin Magnussen ahead of Romain Grosjean, and the second Racing Point of Stroll. As expected, Williams Racing brought up the rear, with George Russell ahead of Robert Kubica for the first time this weekend.
All eyes will now switch to Qualifying, can Leclerc secure a fourth pole position of 2019, or can Vettel grab his first? Or will Bottas or Hamilton come in and rob the Tifosi of a Ferrari pole position?
Autodromo Nazionale Monza Free Practice 3 Result
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