Formula One: Verstappen completes practice clean sweep in Mexico

AFP , Saturday 28 Oct 2023

Max Verstappen completed a clear sweep of all three practice sessions at the Mexico Grand Prix when he topped the times for Red Bull ahead of Williams’ Alex Albon in Saturday’s final practice.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands steers his car during a practice session for the Formula One Mexico Grand Prix auto race at the Hermanos Rodriguez racetrack in Mexico City, Friday, Oct. 27, 2023. Photo: AP


The newly-crowned three-time world champion clocked a best lap in one minute and 17.887 seconds to outpace the Anglo-Thai driver by 0.070 seconds in a competitive session that ended in drama as Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz spun to avoid a collision with Lance Stroll’s slow-moving Aston Martin.

In a similar incident, Charles Leclerc took avoiding action in his Ferrari to miss Haas’s Kevin Magnussen who like Stroll appeared to be unaware of a car approaching behind him.

Verstappen’s team-mate and home hero Sergio Perez was third ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell, Oscar Piastri of McLaren and a revitalised Valtteri Bottas of Alfa Romeo.

Ferrari's Leclerc finished 13th with his team-mate Sainz in 15th.

Yuki Tsunoda, who is set to start Sunday’s race from the back of the grid after taking a penalty exceeding the limit for new engines, was seventh for Alpha Tauri ahead of Lando Norris of McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo in the second Alpha Tauri and a frustrated seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton in the second Mercedes.

The session began in near-perfect conditions with bright sunshine and an air temperature of 21 degrees Celsius. The track was 40, and rising, in the rarefied air at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2,240 metres above sea level in the capital city.

Bottas, Stroll and Alonso were first out after four minutes’ inaction, the Aston Martin pair needing a boost after a miserable Friday’s practice saw them wind up 18th and 20th.

Sainz and Leclerc set quick early laps for Ferrari before Hamilton and then Russell suggested Mercedes had found an overnight improvement to their set-up before Gasly survived a big spin at Turn 12 in his Alpine.

It was fully 12 minutes before Red Bull joined the fray with Perez cheered all around the track as he went fourth. Verstappen then took second, 0.073 seconds adrift of Russell, all laps set on soft tyres in preparation for qualifying later Saturday.

The champion improved after 30 minutes of the hour to go top in 1:18.429, two-tenths clear of Russell with Perez third and Ricciardo, on mediums in his Alpha Tauri, fourth ahead of Hamilton and the two Ferraris.

As if to confirm his humanity, the almost metronomic Verstappen caught a dramatic slide as he powered into Turn 11, a corner that was creating problems for many drivers just before entry to the ‘stadium section’.

With 15 minutes remaining, Albon – who had impressed throughout Friday – took fresh softs and leapt to the top in 1:17.957, nearly half a second faster than Verstappen. The track was clearly improving as the temperatures and grip increased.

As most drivers took softs for a final flurry of hot laps, Verstappen was the only one to improve on Albon’s time, regaining P1 in 1:17.887, just 0.070 quicker than the Frenchman.

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