FP3: Verstappen heads Hamilton after blistering lap in final practice for the Bahrain GP
Max Verstappen led the final practice session in sweltering conditions in Bahrain, pumping in a lap that was 0.739s quicker than the best effort from reigning champion Lewis Hamilton, to set up a scintillating qualifying battle this afternoon.
Verstappen shot to the top of the time sheets in his RB16B with a 1m30.577s lap on soft tyres late in the session, eclipsing Hamilton's existing benchmark for Mercedes, and ensuring the Red Bull racer was fastest in each of the three practice sessions for this, the first race of the year. Third quickest was Pierre Gasly, who looked competitive throughout for AlphaTauri but was 1.006s off Verstappen's time by the end of the session.
Fourth-fastest Valtteri Bottas ran wide at Turn 4 numerous times and was one of many carried past the Turn 1 apex by gusts of wind early on. He finished ahead of Red Bull's Sergio Perez who was P5.
Ferrari - who elected not to run on the soft tyres - enjoyed another productive session with Carlos Sainz sixth, ahead of Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen in P7. Charles Leclerc spun at Turn 2 early on, and said "the grip is incredibly low", but managed to avoid the barriers on to finish in P11 – unlike Raikkonen who crashed in FP2 after his own spin.
McLaren, who saw Lando Norris go second in FP2, had Daniel Ricciardo finish 10th and Norris 16th in this session. Norris downplayed the team's pace after FP2 on Friday, however, saying the MCL35M "didn't feel good".
Alpine's two-time champion Fernando Alonso finished 15th while Esteban Ocon took eighth as they continued in somewhat anonymous but steady fashion. Midfield rivals Aston Martin had Lance Stroll ninth, behind Ocon, and Sebsatian Vettel 14th, ahead of Alonso.
AlphaTauri's rookie Yuki Tsunoda was 13th behind Alfa Romeo's Antonio Giovinazzi. Tsunoda was the fastest of the 2021 rookies, with Haas's Mick Schumacher 18th and his team mate Nikita Mazepin - who spun at Turn 7 midway through - in 19th.
The two Williams drivers bookended the Haas pair with George Russell 17th and Nicholas Latifi 20th.
Temperatures will drop from today's high of 40 degrees Celsius but the action will hot up when qualifying begins at 1800 local time. Can Verstappen carry his practice speed into the fight for pole when it really matters? Or have Mercedes been holding something back? Stay tuned to F1.com for live coverage to find out...
FORMULA 1 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX 2021
Practice 3 results
|1 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||1:30.577|
|2 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes||+0.739s|
|3 Pierre Gasly GAS AlphaTauri||+1.006s|
|4 Valtteri Bottas BOT Mercedes||+1.278s|
|5 Sergio Perez PER Red Bull Racing||+1.331s|