Mercedes dominates final practice in Russia

Image by Sam Bloxham/LAT

Mercedes dominates final practice in Russia

Formula 1

Mercedes dominates final practice in Russia


Mercedes enjoyed a comfortable advantage over a struggling Ferrari in the final practice session for the Russian Grand Prix.

Once again it was Lewis Hamilton who led the way for Mercedes, posting a 1m33.067s to finish FP3 a quarter of a second clear of teammate Valtteri Bottas. Hamilton’s best lap came on his first attempt on hypersofts, and although he tried to improve with a further run — setting faster sectors — he was unable to lower his overall time.

Sebastian Vettel had to settle for third and Ferrari remained well off Mercedes’ pace, what the German exactly 0.6s adrift of championship leader Hamilton. Having aborted his first lap after running wide, Vettel was a second slower than Hamilton on his second run and lowered that gap to 0.6s on his third.

While that suggests Vettel can get closer to the Mercedes, it appears too big a gap to expect to close in qualifying, with Kimi Raikkonen having a clean run but still ending up 0.021s slower than his teammate.

There was then a bizarre moment at the end of the session as Ferrari sent Vettel back out without enough time to reach the end of the pit lane, and the pit exit light went red just before he joined the track. Vettel was forced to stop and started pushing his car back up the pit lane, while Raikkonen had also been released and told to immediately stop before exiting his garage.

Red Bull slipped back compared to its Friday position with Max Verstappen fifth and Daniel Ricciardo sixth, but such positions were expected with both drivers having taken new power units and starting the race from the back of the grid.

Those penalties open up the chance for a big result for a midfield team and it was Sauber leading the way as Charles Leclerc was seventh fastest, 1.5s slower than Hamilton and only 0.2s away from Ricciardo. Leclerc had a similar advantage of 0.2s over Esteban Ocon in eighth, with Kevin Magnussen and Sergio Perez rounding out the top 10.

Honda opted to revert to its previous specification of power unit after testing an upgrade on Friday, with the Japanese manufacturer looking to optimize the new engine ahead of its home race at Suzuka next weekend. That saw Pierre Gasly drop out of the top 10 compared to FP2, finishing 12th with Brendon Hartley 16th.

The two McLarens were at the bottom of the standings with Stoffel Vandoorne 0.4s clear of teammate Fernando Alonso as the Spaniard focused on race pace as he too will start from the back due to a power unit penalty.