German GP: Leclerc on top as Ferrari complete practice treble

<i> Image: AFP / Andrej Isakovic </i>
<i> Image: AFP / Andrej Isakovic </i>

Charles Leclerc topped the times as Ferrari completed a free practice treble while Lewis Hamilton struggled for pace and consistency in Saturday morning’s third and final session for Sunday’s German Grand Prix.

In cool and overcast conditions, the Monegasque driver clocked a best lap in one minute 12.380sec to outpace Max Verstappen of Red Bull by 0.168s with Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel third, 0.264 adrift.

Valtteri Bottas was fourth for Mercedes ahead of Kevin Magnussen of Haas and Hamilton, who wound up sixth following an unhappy session that began with him rejecting a pair of retro Mercedes driving gloves and included a pit-stop for a change of side-pods.

Carlos Sainz was seventh for McLaren ahead of Pierre Gasly in the second Red Bull, Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo and Romain Grosjean in the second Ferrari-powered Haas.

Several of the drivers had times deleted after running with four wheels off the track limits.

After the record-breaking heat wave of previous days, cooler conditions prevailed as practice began on a much-changed circuit following overnight thunderstorms and heavy rain. The air temperature fell from 38 degrees Celsius to 24 degrees. The track temperature was 39 degrees.

This was expected to favour Mercedes all dressed in 1950s racing overalls to mark 125 years in motorsport and their 200th race start.

But the champions seemed unable to rediscover their full speed and instead Ferrari set the pace with their customer teams Alfa Romeo and Haas in pursuit.

After their first runs, Leclerc led the way ahead of Vettel while Hamilton was fourth behind Verstappen and Bottas outside the top ten.

Having introduced a new aerodynamic package, including a bigger cooling system, Mercedes chose to revert to their previous slimmer bodywork, with ‘thinner’ sidepods, in a bid to regain their pace.

As Hamilton waited, Leclerc and Vettel improved, the Monegasque leading by almost a second until his local hero team-mate reduced the gap to less than three-tenths with Bottas improving to third, but half a second adrift.

Verstappen jumped to second on the final runs, shortly before Hamilton re-joined the fray only to have his improved lap deleted, like Vettel’s best, for running off-track at the final corner.

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