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Formula One

FP3: Leclerc puts Ferrari in front of Mercedes ahead of qualifying

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Mercedes and Ferrari traded places at the top in Saturday’s final practice session for the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix, and it was Charles Leclerc who set the fastest lap – two-tenths ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Respective team mates Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas were third and fourth, as Red Bull’s challenge appeared to fade.

Teams began the session tentatively, track temperatures higher than in Friday’s night-time FP2 session – and therefore higher than they will be in qualifying. But the action ramped up with this evening’s all-important session looming and the sun setting in the Lion City.

Vettel couldn’t match Leclerc, ending up six-tenths off his Scuderia colleague, but the German did manage to split the Mercedes. Narrowly behind the slower Ferrari was Bottas, who crashed out of FP1 and was out first in FP3, he and Hamilton the only drivers to use medium tyres as well as softs in this session.

A late leap from Alex Albon put him fifth for Red Bull, while team mate Max Verstappen appeared to duck out of a late flying lap in traffic, and settled for P6.

Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris put McLaren fastest of the midfield, P7 and P8 respectively – and it was the Renault pair led by Nico Hulkenberg who rounded out the top 10.

Daniil Kvyat’s session lasted a few minutes before his Honda-powered Toro Rosso began to billow smoke and his FP3 was over without a time set. An oil leak was diagnosed, with a penalty-free power unit change expected.

The second retiree was Racing Point’s Sergio Perez, 14th, who has had a torrid weekend having reached Singapore under the weather, getting embroiled in a scrap during FP2 and then hitting the Turn 22 wall hard midway through FP3.

Incidentally, the recently re-signed Racing Point man has now had issues in three consecutive Grand Prix weekends, having stopped with engine trouble in Belgium, and crashing out in Monza FP1.

Perez’s crash led to a broken right-rear wheel, potentially a damaged gearbox, a brief Virtual Safety Car and then a red flag with half of the session remaining.

When the red flag was rescinded, teams scrambled to leave the pit lane on soft tyres and Leclerc cemented his place at the top of the leaderboard. In an attempt to catch up, Hamilton spun exiting the pit lane but carried on to set the second-fastest lap, and Vettel followed.

The remaining Racing Point driver Lance Stroll finished P11, behind him Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen, whose efforts were hampered in FP2 due to a power cut.

Williams have been gradually closing the gap to Haas and it showed in FP3, George Russell finishing 15th in front of Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and both Haas drivers, Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen. But outgoing Williams driver Robert Kubica was 3.767s off the pace, down in 19th.

With our Friday pace analysis showing Mercedes have the advantage on both single-lap and race pace, the picture may well have changed with Leclerc throwing down the gauntlet ahead of qualifying. Will there be sparks between Ferrari and Mercedes under the lights?

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