Max Verstappen completed a clean sweep of quickest time in practice for the Mexican Grand Prix, with the Dutchman topping the timesheet in FP3 at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, more than two tenths of a second clear of championship leader Lewis Hamilton and title contender Sebastian Vettel.
Verstappen went quickest late in a weather-compromised final practice session, moving ahead of Sauber’s impressive Charles Leclerc with his first qualifying-style lap on hypersoft tyres.
The Dutchman set a time 1:16.385 to lead the Monegasque driver by 0.674s. Mercedes driver Hamilton and Ferrari man Vettel then closed in with their quali sims, but neither could overhaul the Red Bull Racing driver and when Verstappen popped in another late flying lap he opened the gap further to end the session 0.254s behind the Dutchman. Vettel was left with third place, just under three hundredths of a second behind Hamilton.
The session began on a damp track and with drivers reluctant to run in the unrepresentative conditions, there was little action in the opening half of the session, with mots drivers completing only an installation lap before returning to the pit lane.
As the session reached the halfway point, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso was the first to bolt on slick tyres and that prompted a steady stream of lap times as driver worked their way into the session and the conditions.
Leclerc was quickest in the early phase of consistent running with the Sauber driver jumping into P1 ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen despite encountering traffic in the final part of his lap.
Mercedes Valtteri Bottas then dislodged the Monegasque driver with a lap of 1:18.839 but his pre-eminence was brief as Leclerc upped his pace and retook top spot. His time there was brief, however, as Vettel then became the first man to dip blow 1m17s with a time of 1:17.836.
Verstappen slotted into P2 with a time of 1:17.918, but the session was then neutralised as Bottas was forced to pull over at the side of the track in the stadium section with a suspected hydraulic issue.
While Verstappen had snuck in a lap before Bottas’ problem, the double waved yellow flags and then the deployment of the Virtual Safety Car scuppered Daniel Ricciardo’s first flying lap.
When the action resumed with a little over 11 minutes remaining, the field began their qualifying simulations and Leclerc was the first to show his hand, lapping 0.777s faster than Vettel’s earlier benchmark.
With little time remaining the track became congested in the final minutes, with all fit to run car on track. That again compromised Ricciardo’s quali simulation and as Hamilton and Vettel found the improvements to take P2 and P3 respectively, Ricciardo, who had finished second in both Friday sessions, was left with fourth place ahead of Räikkönen.
Leclerc finished as best-of-the-rest with a lap of 1:17.059. That left him just 0.775s behind Verstappen on a good morning for Sauber as its second driver Marcus Ericsson finished in P9, albeit half a second off Leclerc.
Seventh place went to Carlos Sainz, with the Renault driver finishing just under two tenths of a second ahead of Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly. With Ericsson ninth, tenths place in the session went to Nico Hulkenberg in the second Renault.
At the bottom of the order Haas’ Kevin Magnussen failed to set a time in the session, with the Danish driver restricted to the garage by an intercooler problem.
2018 Formula 1 Mexican Grand Prix – Free Practice 3
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 9 1:16.284
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 9 1:16.538 0.254
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 11 1:16.566 0.282
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 7 1:17.028 0.744
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 16 1:17.045 0.761
6 Charles Leclerc Sauber 13 1:17.059 0.775
7 Carlos Sainz Jr. Renault 11 1:17.336 1.052
8 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 16 1:17.525 1.241
9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 14 1:17.565 1.281
10 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 10 1:17.623 1.339
11 Esteban Ocon Force India 10 1:17.731 1.447
12 Sergio Perez Force India 10 1:17.819 1.535
13 Romain Grosjean Haas 10 1:18.145 1.861
14 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 15 1:18.445 2.161
15 Fernando Alonso McLaren 11 1:18.548 2.264
16 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 10 1:18.637 2.353
17 Sergey Sirotkin Williams 9 1:18.669 2.385
18 Lance Stroll Williams 8 1:18.698 2.414
19 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 5 1:18.839 2.555
20 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1