Verstappen tops final Japanese GP practice from McLaren duo

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Max Verstappen remained at the top of the timesheets at Suzuka for the third practice session in succession, the Red Bull driver heading into qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix as the outright favourite.

Verstappen clocked in with a 0.240s advantage over McLaren's Lando Norris, with Oscar Piastri completing team papaya's top-three.

Sergio Perez was fourth in the running order, just ahead of the Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Carlos who completed the top six.

Most teams were taken aback on Friday by the high level of tyre degradation encountered this year at Suzuka, which suggested that running would perhaps be limited in FP3 as everyone saves their rubber for what could be a three-stopper on Sunday.

It was a leisurely start to the session, with Sainz the first driver to leave the pits after six minutes of emptiness. Last weekend's Singapore GP winner was followed by Leclerc, with traffic slowly building thereafter.

There was an early alert in the Mercedes camp when Russell reported an unexpected gear-sync issue on his warm-up lap, but after a check, all appeared to go back to normal.

As everyone settled in, Verstappen eventually picked up where he had left off on Friday, the Dutchman setting a 1m30.960s benchmark that edged Norris by 0.214s.

The soft compound was the tyre of choice for the majority of drivers, which perhaps implies that the use of the mediums and hards will be widespread in tomorrow's event.

As the session reached its hallway mark, the track went quiet as a lull set in. But Sainz and Leclerc soon broke the silence as Scuderia pair set off on long runs on the soft tyre.

Positions remained unchanged at the top of the field with Verstappen still sitting ahead of Norris and Leclerc, with Hamilton and Russell just behind.

As the track evolved, so did the pace of the field as qualifying simulations were now in order.

A flyer by Piastri overhauled Verstappen's best by a comfortable 0.405s. But the Aussie's effort was immediately beaten by Norris who made it a McLaren 1-2 and lowered the benchmark to 1m30.507s.

Verstappen would have none of it however as he recouped the top spot with a 1m30.267s that cleared Norris by 0.240s.

As they switched to one-lap pace, Ferrari's pair improved on their previous best but there were seven tenths off the top spot.

Meanwhile, as the session entered its final minutes, Perez slotted into fourth, 0.737s off his teammate's best.

Verstappen thus concluded FP3 on top, but with time in hand, confirming his status as favourite for this afternoon's qualifying.

But McLaren will be determined to try and give the championship leader a run for his money, with Ferrari perhaps a dark horse in the grid defining exercise.

Hamilton and Russell remained grouped together in P7 and P8, while Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso and Alfa Romeo's Zhou Guanyu completed the top ten.

In the second half of the field, it was worth noting that Alpine's drivers were worryingly unable to hook it up, with Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly clocking in respectively P13 and P20.

Over at AlphaTauri, Yuki Tsunoda outpaced Liam Lawson by a tenth of a second while Logan Sargeant preceded in the running order his Williams teammate Amex Albon.

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