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Formula One

FP3: Hamilton holds off Verstappen by just 0.026s in final Brazilian GP practice

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Lewis Hamilton topped the third practice session for the Brazilian Grand Prix by just 0.026s over Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, with Ferrari’s pair in third and fourth led by Charles Leclerc.

Hamilton set his fastest lap of 1m 08.320s – around a second slower than last year’s pole position time – with 15 minutes of the session remaining, usurping the then-leading Leclerc by 0.291s at the flag.

Qualifying runs began in earnest 35 minutes into the hour when the Ferraris took on new soft-compound tyres and set the early pace, with the might of their power units propelling Leclerc to fastest first and third sector times. Sebastian Vettel, in fourth, was just five-hundredths slower than his team mate.

Hamilton emerged for Mercedes shortly afterwards and made up the time in the middle sector, though team mate Valtteri Bottas finished nearly 0.9s off in P6 having run wide a couple of times at the Senna Esses.

As our Friday Pace Analysis showed, Red Bull and Ferrari had been level on short-run pace – but temperatures were much higher on Saturday, the surface had a chance to rubber-in and the rain clouds had made a partial retreat. However, warmer conditions will mean a closer eye is needed on tyre temperatures in qualifying and Sunday’s race.

Verstappen spent a few minutes in the garage as Red Bull wrestled with an attachment on his front wing, but emerged to go second-fastest with 10 minutes remaining, his time of 1m 08.346s marginally slower than Hamilton’s.

It underlined Red Bull’s solid pace around this short circuit, yet Alex Albon struggled to match his team mate and finished 0.827s off in P5 – ahead of Bottas by under a tenth.

Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat shrugged off his retirement in FP2 by finishing seventh, behind Bottas, and around a second off the pace. The Russian – who had a Turn 1 off as he complained of brake fade – finished just ahead of Alfa Romeo’s P8 runner Antonio Giovinazzi.

McLaren’s duo rounded out the top 10, Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz split by just 0.003s. Sainz was the only driver to try medium tyres, having spent his long runs on the yellow-walled rubber early on before switching to the customary softs.

READ MORE: ‘I went to brake and there was nothing there’ – Albon reflects on difficult opening day in Brazil

Nico Hulkenberg finished 13th for Renault, his team mate Daniel Ricciardo 15th – split by Haas’s Kevin Magnussen – but just half a second separated the Australian in P15 and seventh-place Kvyat.

The tiny margins will make for an exciting qualifying session, coming up in a couple of hours at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace where Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari are achingly close.

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