Mexican GP: Verstappen fastest in FP3 as pace suggests close qualifying

Max Verstappen topped FP3 for the second consecutive weekend, as the Mercedes' struggle to find clear track. Ferrari sixth and seventh as the fight for pole looks close.

Mexican GP: Verstappen fastest in FP3 as pace suggests close qualifying
Max Verstappen was quickest as the times suggest a close battle for pole in Qualifying on Saturday afternoon. (Image Credit: Sutton Images)

In the two practice sessions for the Mexican Grand Prix on Friday, it was Mercedes in FP1 and Ferrari in FP2 who led the way. On Saturday morning in the final 60 minutes of running before qualifying, it was Red Bull's turn to take top spot, with Max Verstappen doing so by just 0.094 from Lewis Hamilton.

Toward the end of the session, when the softest available tyre is bolted on, fuel down to the minimum and engines turned up, the Dutchman was able to post the fastest time of the weekend so far, a 1:19.137. Despite his SuperSoft runs being affected by traffic, Hamilton did well to get the gap which was 0.584s when Verstappen set the time down to less than a tenth.

Daniel Ricciardo made a Red Bull 1-3, ahead of Nico Rosberg, who has had a deficit of around 0.4s all weekend in fourth.

Valtteri Bottas did well to out his Williams in fifth place, ahead of both Ferrari's of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.

Felipe Massa made it both Williams in the top eight, a comfortable 0.258 clear of Nico Hulkenberg's Force India, who just beat Carlos Sainz and his Toro Rosso to P9 by just 0.070.

Final simulations

The opening 30 minutes of the session, were, as expected rather quiet, as teams and drivers completed their final race-pace simulations, with the McLaren's of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button going for stints of around 13 laps, which left them at the bottom of the timing sheet until they switched to the SuperSofts at the end.

Hamilton was setting the early pace, despite reporting that his "steering feels a little bit left-hand down"​. He worked his way down from an initial 1:20.158 to a 1:19.721, which was still half a second clear of Rosberg and the rest of the pack, until Vettel pumped in a 1:20.048 to leave him just over three tenths down on the W07 Hybrid.

The Red Bulls then showed their hand, the car looking a lot more comfortable to drive than yesterday, with Ricciardo ending the first half the session closest to Hamilton, breaking the 1:20 barrier by 0.050, but still nearly 0.250s down on the benchmark as the SuperSofts were beginning to be bolted on.

Traffic, Traffic and more traffic

Mexico City's roads are some of the most congested and for a while it seemed as if some of it had spilled over onto the Circuit Hermanos Rodriguez as cars were backing up in the final sector, wanting to find themselves a bit of space, but hindering other drivers as they did so, Kevin Magnussen on Ricciardo into the final corner being the prime example.

Williams were unaffected by the traffic, getting out early, with Massa recovering from a mistake on his first lap to go P4 on his second, with a respectable 1:19.997. Bottas came through moments later to go P3, around 0.150 up on what his team-mate could manage.

Felipe Massa's off at T1 was the most dramatic moment of an otherwise rountine session. (Image Credit: Formula One)
Felipe Massa's off at T1 was the most dramatic moment of an otherwise rountine session. (Image Credit: Formula One)

Verstappen then set his 1:19.197 that was to remain unbeaten throughout the remaining minutes of the session.

Both the Ferrari's aborted their laps after mistakes at T12, as did Hamilton after also making a mistake, whilst Rosberg made amends for his own first lap mistake to go P4 on his second.

Sainz did another excellent job for Toro Rosso to stick it P10, ahead of Sergio Perez in the Force India.

Jolyon Palmer did a good lap to split the McLaren's at the death, the filling in an Alonso-Button sandwich.

Haas had more set-up issues with Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez both reporting ​issues with the front tyres, "​It's a total disaster, I don't know what to do"​ the Frenchman commented, whilst his Mexican team-mate added: "​I don't know what's going on,the front-tyres are nowhere."

Sauber's Felipe Nasr picked up the wooden spoon for P22 and last, as team-mate Marcus Ericsson was 16th, which would see him continue onto Q2 in qualifying conditions, although he was less than a tenth clear of Gutierrez.

2016 Mexican Grand Prix - Third Practice classification
Position Driver Team Time/Gap
1. Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:19.197
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +0.094
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull +0.233
4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes +0.481
5. Valtteri Bottas Williams +0.674
6. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari +0.800
7. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +0.857
8. Felipe Massa Williams +0.860
9. Nico Hulkenberg Force India +1.118
10. Carlos Sainz Jr Toro Rosso +1.178
11. Sergio Perez Force India +1.335
12. Danill Kvyat Toro Rosso +1.449
13. Fernando Alonso McLaren +1.463
14. Jolyon Palmer Renault +1.822
15. Jenson Button McLaren +2.015
16. Marcus Ericsson Sauber +2.108
17. Esteban Gutierrez Haas +2.201
18. Kevin Magnussen Renault +2.208
19. Romain Grosjean Haas +2.464
20. Pascal Wehrlein Manor +2.621
21. Esteban Ocon Manor +2.784
22. Felipe Nasr Sauber +3.217