The third and final practice session of the 2023 F1 Australian GP on Friday ended with Max Verstappen of Red Bull atop the standings. With teams trying to make up for a messy Friday, there were different run plans, as focus switched from short runs to long runs and back to qualifying simulations.
Once the clock wound down and the chequered flag came out, Verstappen led everyone else with a time that was around two tenths quicker than Fernando Alonso in P2. Esteban Ocon of Alpine was P3, an indication of how all over the place the run plans of teams were.
However, with the final 60 minutes of running before the very crucial qualifying in the rearview mirror, what did we learn? Well, let's take a look:
2023 F1 Australian GP FP3: What are the key learnings?
#1 Red Bull lead, not sure by how much
Red Bull were not at its marauding best. The way we've seen the team dominate the timing sheets earlier in the season. In the hands of Verstappen, the car did look good, but it was a complete disaster for Sergio Perez. There seems to be something wrong with the Merxican's car, as he went off the track multiple times.
For the 2023 Australian GP, Red Bull could face their toughest challenge of the year yet. Having said that, it won't be a surprise if the Austrian team did not use all their horses in FP3.
#2 Ferrari could spring a surprise in qualifying
In the first round of running, Ferrari's lap times were very impressive. At one point, Carlos Sainz extracted a time that was almost half a second quicker than the Mercedes drivers. Ferrari are one of the few teams that tend to run the power unit conservatively throughout the race weekend till it's absolutely necessary.
At the 2023 Australian GP, the team might do that again. We had predicted a Charles Leclerc front row on Saturday, and by the looks of it, there could be an outside chance of Ferrari springing a surprise in qualifying.
#3 Alpine could prove to be a headache for Mercedes
Mercedes might be running a bit conservatively in FP3 once again compared to Alpine (something it did in Jeddah as well). Having said that, the French team might have Mercedes in their sights once again. In Jeddah, the race pace was just not there for Alpine, so they had to be content with a P8 and P9 finish.
This weekend, though, if Alpine can outqualify one or both Mercedes at the 2023 Australian GP, it could put up a better fight on a track where overtaking is not that easy.
#4 With rain in the air, qualifying could get spicy
Rain became a factor once again as the session wound down in FP3. While the prediction remains for a dry qualifying session, if that's not the case, things could get spicy. Red Bull have not looked like the most compliant car during the 2023 Australian GP race weekend. To be fair, no car has looked as hooked up.
Add in a few drops of rain, make the track slippery, and things could become a bit more unpredictable. We could see rain specialists like Nico Hulkenberg and Lando Norris pull through the midfield and spring a surprise as well. Wouldn't that be fun?
#5 Qualifying might be the most intense time of the weekend
There are some striking similarities between the 2023 Australian GP race weekend and the one in Bahrain.
Even in Bahrain, there was a sense of lack of clarity over how close the teams were to each other. Even in qualifying, it wasn't before Red Bull started ramping things up did we have any sense of clarity in terms of the pecking order. The race was a bit of a damp squib, as once Verstappen nailed the start, he was off to the rafters with no challenge from anyone.
The 2023 Australian GP appears to have a similar theme. There's a lack of clarity over the pecking order. Most importantly, with the track seemingly not conducive for wheel-to-wheel action, qualifying will be very important and could prove to be the most intensely contested part of the weekend.