The muggy afternoon conditions at Sakhir weren’t particularly conducive to fast times, with early laps being over two seconds slower than during Friday night’s FP2.
After some unrepresentative efforts, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took the lead with a 1m33.574s on softs, a time gradually improved first by Lewis Hamilton and then by Alonso.
The Spaniard, who caused a stir with his win in FP2, was leading by 1m33.121s at half-time ahead of Hamilton, Carlos Sainz and Leclerc.
Verstappen was fifth at this point but on the slower hard compound less than six tenths behind Alonso, despite complaining of “lacking grip”.
The pace picked up after the typical mid-practice pause, with Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu briefly finishing second.
It was the start of a flurry of faster times led by Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll. While recovering from a broken right wrist, the Canadian topped the lead with 15 minutes to go with a 1’32.010 to make an Aston 1-2.
The Mercedes duo of Hamilton and George Russell were next, Hamilton clocking a time of 1’32.555 to take the lead while Russell was less than two tenths back in second place.
Their time in the sun didn’t last long as Verstappen returned on the soft tires to take the lead, only to be beaten by 0.005s by Alonso’s 1’32.450s.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Pictures
Alonso’s time held to the end, leading to a tense battle between reigning Verstappen and challenger Alonso in qualifying.
Perez finished a tenth behind Alonso and Verstappen third after initially joining his teammate on a hard tire run.
A late try put Leclerc in fifth to separate Hamilton and Russell and Stroll was demoted to seventh.
Sainz also left late to be eighth, followed by McLaren rookie Oscar Piastri, seven tenths behind Alonso, showing early promise for the Woking team.
Pierre Gasly was the first of the Alpines in 11th, ahead of teammate Esteban Ocon, Zhou and McLaren’s Lando Norris.
The Haas duo Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hülkenberg finished 14th and 15th after a slow start to the session.
As predicted, Williams and AlphaTauri face a battle not to stay in the last row. AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda was 16th, followed by Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas, who failed to catch a representative lap.
Williams rookie Logan Sargeant finished 18th ahead of teammate Alex Albon while AlphaTauri newcomer Nyck de Vries supported the timesheets.
Qualifying for the F1 2023 opener follows at 18:00 local time (15:00 GMT) in cooler evening conditions.
F1 Bahrain GP – FP3 Results