[F1 Italian GP: Sainz remains in front in final practice
Saturday’s FP3 was made more intriguing, and significant, due to the ATA or alternative tyre allocation in place for this weekend.
Teams received two fewer set of tyres from Pirelli and are also forced to use all three compounds throughout the three qualifying stages.
That meant that rather than just completing soft-tyre qualifying simulations, they also had to consider bringing the hard and medium tyres into play to prepare for Q1 and Q2 respectively.
That split was most obvious between the top teams, who focused almost exclusively on soft-tyre pace for Q3 versus midfield teams less confident about their ability to survive Q1 and therefore paying extra attention to harder tyre running.
McLaren man Lando Norris led the early soft tyre running ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and Ferrari’s Sainz.
Runaway championship leader Verstappen soon demolished that time by dipping below the 1m22 barrier with a first effort of 1m21.838s, with Perez following in second ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. After 15 minutes Verstappen then lowered his own benchmark to a 1m21.687s.
Those times remained unchanged until right before the halfway mark, when Kevin Magnussen grabbed third in the medium-shod Haas in between Perez and Hamilton, a sign of Monza’s track getting ever faster.
Of the cars starting on harder compounds, Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso impressed with a 1m22.690s on hard tyres, one second behind Verstappen.
After the halfway point Alex Albon showed signs that confirm Williams’ low drag prowess by taking second on the medium tyres with a 1m22.114s lap, four tenths behind Verstappen’s leading time, and then going marginally quicker on hards.
With 15 minutes to go lap times tumbled again by virtue of Mercedes, with Hamilton’s 1m21.453s briefly leading team-mate George Russell.
Verstappen naturally responded by logging a 1m20.998s on softs, restoring a healthy four-tenth gap, prompting a “I don’t know how to find that half a second” message from Hamilton.
There was no reply from Perez, who was confined to the garage with an oil leak on his RB19.
But Sainz did improve with a late flyer, delighting the tifosi by going top with a 1m20.912s with seven minutes left on the clock.
Verstappen didn’t improve on his final lap and stayed 0.086s behind Sainz, with Hamilton completing the top three.
Leclerc, who noted his Ferrari felt better after struggling on low fuel during FP2, took fourth, over five tenths behind his team-mate, ahead of Alonso and Russell.
Haas duo Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg nabbed seventh and eighth respectively, with Alonso and Perez rounding out the top ten.
Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll was 11th after completing his first laps of the weekend. On Friday, Stroll handed his AMR23 to Felipe Drugovich for the Brazilian’s FP1 rookie run, before a fuel system issue prevented him from completing more than half a lap in FP2. The team opted to change the Canadian’s power unit, which forced it to break the curfew.
Daniel Ricciardo’s stand-in Liam Lawson was 12th for AlphaTauri, quickest of the medium-tyre runners, ahead of his team-mate Yuki Tsunoda.
Oscar Piastri was the first of the McLarens in 14th, followed by Williams’ Logan Sargeant, Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and his team-mate Norris.
Esteban Ocon was 18th on hards after a low-key session for Alpine, ahead of Zhou Guanyu and team-mate Pierre Gasly.
There was some more foreshadowing of potential traffic chaos in qualifying, with Alonso commenting on the team radio that the drivers that held him up on his hotlap “will have a bad surprise in qualifying”, referring to race control’s stricter use of minimum times on out-laps.
Norris was also badly held up, having a near-miss with slower traffic coming out of the Lesmos.
The session passed without major incidents beyond the odd off-track excursion. The most notable off was Piastri’s twitch through the second chicane, which spat the Australian out through the gravel.