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Japanese GP 2018

OCTOBER 6, 2018

Practice 3 Report - Drizzle, fizzle, un-fizzle

By Dan Knutson

It began to drizzle early on in Free Practice 3 for the Japanese Grand Prix, and that pretty much caused the session to fizzle out. But then the sun came out to un-fizzle things, and Lewis Hamilton turned the fastest lap time in his Mercedes.

The line-up for the weekend was: Mercedes – Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas; Ferrari – Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen; Red Bull TAG Heuer – Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen; Racing Point Force India Mercedes – Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon; Williams Mercedes –Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin; McLaren Renault – Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne; Renault – Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz; Toro Rosso Honda – Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly; Haas Ferrari – Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen; Sauber Ferrari – Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc.

Hamilton topped Friday's sessions with a lap in 1:28.217 on the super softs.

"The balance of the car was in quite a nice place, so I was just enjoying it," he said Friday afternoon. "Every year I come back, there are always areas that I can improve, so I was like 'There are two or three corners where I know that I need to kill it this year' and I got straight up to it. I was much better than I had ever been through those particular corners. Now I just have to stay on it, keep working; my team and I, we're working so well together in fine-tuning this car."

Hulkenberg went out first in FP3.

The track was still damp in spots after an overnight rain. The ambient temperature at the start of the 60-minute session was 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Centigrade) and the track temperature was 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Centigrade). The humidity was at 90 percent. And the winds were gusting.

Pirelli's slick tire compounds were the soft, super soft and medium.

Raikkonen and Vettel, on the super softs, went one/two in the early going with respective lap times of 1:30.054 and 1:30.161.

Ten minutes into the session a light rain was falling on some sections of the track. It was not enough to warrant rain tires just yet, however. But it was getting slippery on the road surface.

"This rain is going to be 10 minutes long, so it should dry again," Mercedes told Bottas.

But for now the drivers trickled back into the pits including Hamilton who had been on a quick lap before going straight on at the chicane.

Halfway through FP3 the rain had stopped and the track was dry enough for Bottas to head out on slicks. "It feels okay, just damp on the curbs," he radioed as he went back to the pits at the end of the lap.

Hamilton then went out, tried a practice start, and did a single lap, pitted, and then did another practice start at pit exit.

A few other drivers went out for exploratory laps. Some did go faster, like Ocon who moved up to eighth place. The skies were blue and the sun was shining, but the gusty winds remained.

Raikkonen and Vettel tried new sets of super softs, and Raikkonen had an off-track excursion at the Esses.

Fifteen minutes remained when Bottas and Hamilton tried new sets of super softs. Hamilton slammed in a time of 1:29.599, which was 0.116 quicker than Vettel's best.

As the now dry session wound down, the drivers were circulating on slicks. Hamilton had another go but could not improve. But he didn't have to worry because nobody was going to beat him.

It was still tricky out there, and Hulkenberg crashed into the barriers in the Esses. That brought out the red flags and ended the session with two and a half minutes remaining,

The top 10 were: Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Bottas, Ricciardo, Ocon, Perez, Sainz and Magnussen.