Russell tops busy final practice in Vegas

George Russell topped a busy final practice session at the Las Vegas Grand Prix after Max Verstappen botched his final flying lap on soft tires.

The session was truncated by five minutes after Alex Albon smacked his car into the outside barrier at Turn 5, entering the Sphere section of the circuit, in the dying moments of the hour.

The last practice session before qualifying featured a broad mix of tires and programs, including long-run simulations and single-lap analyses.

In particular, drivers focused on preparing the soft tire for one final lap in qualifying, with rubber warm-up critical in the cool conditions.

Though the ambient temperature was a mild 64 degrees F, it will drop in time for midnight qualifying. The track had been 10 degrees cooler during second practice earlier on Friday morning.

The circuit was also ramping up dramatically in grip. The track being open to local traffic during the day meant the surface started in a dirty and greasy state, with lap times almost 5s slower than they had been during FP2.

But grip improved rapidly through the hour Russell’s fastest lap of 1m 34.093s was 1.828s quicker than Charles Leclerc’s session-topping FP2 time, and the Briton took top spot with his second run on a set of softs.

Oscar Piastri was second, the McLaren driver 0.398s further back. The Australian rookie burnt through two sets of unloved hard tires at the start of the session before a long run on mediums and a final seven-lap qualifying simulation on softs, putting him ahead of all bar Russell.

But Logan Sargeant was the surprise packet in third, finishing 0.552s off the pace and pipping Verstappen by 0.008s.

The American rookie’s Williams car was fastest of all in the final sector. It’s the most power-sensitive split of the circuit and comprises the Strip, where the DRS zone was extended by 54.7 yards into turn 14 following a post-FP2 assessment.

Sargeant was the highlight in a session of mixed fortunes for Williams, with teammate Albon retiring from FP3 early after crashing at Turn 5. The Thai driver attempted to carry too much speed into the turn and sailed wide into the barriers, making heavy contact with both left-hand wheels.

The collision cracked his rear-left rim, and the tire popped off the wheel as he attempted to limp back to pit lane, forcing him to park by the side of the road and triggering the session-ending red flag.

Albon ended the session sixth fastest, sandwiching the Red Bull Racing pair between the two Williams drivers.

Verstappen had been set to take top spot with a fresh softs late in the session, clocking in at more than 0.1s quicker in the first sector than leader Russell, but he overshot Turn 14 at the end of the Strip and had to take to the run-off zone, spoiling the lap and leaving him 0.56s off the pace. Sergio Perez followed him 0.053s further back.

Fernando Alonso was seventh ahead of Lewis Hamilton, with Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen completing the top 10.

Yesterday’s leaders Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were buried in 16th and 17th, having spent most of the session conducting long runs on the medium compound.

Leclerc, however, was on his fastest lap, with a purple middle sector, when the red flags were waved and was surely destined to join the frontrunners had he had a chance to complete it.

Sainz had been preparing for his final lap when the session was called off, leaving him without a representative time ahead of qualifying. He will serve a 10-place grid penalty for changing power unit parts thanks to his FP1 incident with a loose water valve cover in the road.

Lando Norris, Nico Hulkenberg, Lance Stroll, Esteban Ocon and Zhou Guanyu finished ahead of the Ferrari teammates in places 11 to 15, while Yuki Tsunoda, Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo completed the order.


Story originally appeared on Racer