Leclerc tops final Melbourne practice ahead of Verstappen

Leclerc tops final Melbourne practice ahead of Verstappen


Ferrari's Charles Leclerc edged Red Bull's three-time world champion Max Verstappen

Follow on
Follow us on Google News

Melbourne (AFP) – Ferrari's Charles Leclerc edged Red Bull's three-time world champion Max Verstappen in the third and final practice for the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday, with a revived Lewis Hamilton storming to fourth.

Leclerc, the 2022 Melbourne winner, flew round the Albert Park circuit in an eye-catching one minute 16.714 seconds on his final lap of the session.

That was enough to pip last year's Australian champion Verstappen by just two-tenths of a second after he also clocked his quickest time on his final lap after swapping medium tyres for softs.

Carlos Sainz, back in the car barely two weeks after appendicitis surgery, was third as Ferrari showed Red Bull will not have it all their own way on Sunday.

Verstappen's Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, who came second in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia behind the Dutchman, could only manage seventh.

Mercedes' Hamilton, a two-time Melbourne winner and eight-time Australian pole-sitter, finished a demoralising 18th in the second practice on Saturday.

But he was back in business to be 0.092 seconds off the pace ahead of teammate George Russell and Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso.

McLaren's Oscar Piastri was eighth on his home track ahead of Lance Stroll in the other Aston Martin with McLaren teammate Lando Norris rounding out the top 10.

Alex Albon, who badly damaged his Williams in a high-speed crash on Friday, came 13th in teammate Logan Sargeant's car.

Williams do not have a spare chassis in Australia and team chief James Vowles decided Albon had a better chance to score their first points of the season, meaning Sargeant had to make way.

On a cool and overcast day, Perez, on medium tyres, put the first time on the board but was quickly toppled by Verstappen. The flying Dutchman continued to lower the benchmark with the Ferrari pair almost half a second behind early on.

But Sainz, also on mediums, soon got in the groove to be the first driver under 1:17, 20 minutes into the hour-long session. Leclerc then edged into second to make it a Ferrari 1-2 at the halfway mark ahead of the Red Bull pair.

Piastri put himself in front of the Red Bulls with 18 minutes left before Hamilton charged into second.

But normal service resumed when Verstappen switched to softs and set the best time on his final lap before being edged at the death by Leclerc.