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Abu Dhabi GP: George Russell tops Practice Three for Mercedes as Max Verstappen struggles ahead of qualifying

George Russell surprised Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren to top final practice; world champion Max Verstappen only sixth after tinkering with setup; watch Abu Dhabi GP qualifying live on Sky Sports F1 at 2pm on Saturday

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World champion Max Verstappen appeared to struggle during third practice ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

George Russell topped final practice at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as world champion Max Verstappen struggled ahead of the final qualifying session of the 2023 season.

Russell, who had topped first practice on Friday, continued his strong start to the weekend for Mercedes by setting a 1:24.418 to outpace Lando Norris by almost a tenth of a second, with his McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri third.

Alex Albon was fourth for Williams, surprisingly ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Red Bull's Verstappen in fifth and sixth, respectively.

While the results of the afternoon session must be treated with caution due to the fact qualifying - and the race - take place in significantly different night-time conditions under the lights, Russell's pace suggests the Brit could be in the mix for pole.

Lewis Hamilton was only 12th and the best part of a second off the pace of his team-mate Russell, while Ferrari's Sainz was last, perhaps highlighting the different setups and programmes being run by drivers.

YAS MARINA CIRCUIT, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 25: George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14 during the Abu Dhabi GP at Yas Marina Circuit on Saturday November 25, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Steven Tee / LAT Images)
Image: George Russell topped his second practice session of the weekend

The session took on additional importance after running was limited on Friday as 10 rookies featured in first practice before the returning drivers lost half of the second session due to two red flag delays.

Russell went fastest early in the session but the assumption was that when all the cars switched to soft tyres in the closing stages, the likes of Verstappen and Leclerc would rise to the top.

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While they did improve, it was nowhere near enough to come close to Russell, who found more pace himself with his final run.

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Sky F1's Anthony Davidson takes a look at the Yas Marina Circuit ahead of this weekend's final race of the season at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Norris, who expressed confidence in McLaren's potential after Friday's limited running, appeared set to dislodge Russell before a big slide in the final corner cost him time.

Having been one of the 10 drivers to miss out on first practice on Friday, Verstappen gave up more track time as he played around with the setup of his front suspension throughout the session.

The Dutchman, who is seeking to end his campaign with a record-extending 19th win of the season, clearly remained unhappy with his setup as he complained of "bottoming" and "jumping" on his final run as he finished more than 0.7s back from Russell

Leclerc, who has taken three poles in the last four races, also appeared surprised to be so far off of the Mercedes driver, despite the potential for variance in the different conditions.

Abu Dhabi GP Practice Three Timesheet

Driver Team Time
1. George Russell Mercedes 1:24.418
2. Lando Norris McLaren +0.095
3. Oscar Piastri McLaren +0.392
4. Alex Albon Williams +0.511
5. Charles Leclerc Ferrari +0.681
6. Max Verstappen Red Bull +0.735
7. Esteban Ocon Alpine +0.776
8. Logan Sargeant Williams +0.787
9. Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +0.804
10. Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo +0.840
11. Sergio Perez Red Bull +0.841
12. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +0.874
13. Pierre Gasly Alpine +0.885
14. Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +0.925
15. Lance Stroll Aston Martin +0.987
16. Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo +1.002
17. Nico Hulkenberg Haas +1.166
18. Daniel Ricciardo AlphaTauri +1.179
19. Kevin Magnussen Haas +1.234
20. Carlos Sainz Ferrari +1.295

Sky Sports F1's live Abu Dhabi GP schedule

Saturday November 25

  • 1.15pm: Abu Dhabi GP Qualifying build-up
  • 2pm: Abu Dhabi GP Qualifying
  • 4pm: Ted's Qualifying Notebook

Sunday November 26

  • 9.10am: F2 Feature Race
  • 11.30pm: Grand Prix Sunday Abu Dhabi GP build-up
  • 3pm: Chequered Flag: Abu Dhabi GP reaction
  • 4pm: Ted's Notebook

After the thrills of Las Vegas, Formula 1 heads to Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit for the 2023 season finale and another stunning spectacle under the lights. Watch the Abu Dhabi weekend live on Sky Sports F1, with lights out on Sunday at 1pm. Stream F1 on Sky Sports with NOW

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