FP3: Verstappen sets the pace in final practice ahead of Hamilton and Perez
Max Verstappen topped the final practice session ahead of qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix as Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton finished second and Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez took third.
With the sun setting at the start of FP3, most drivers elected to emerge after 10 minutes for more representative conditions given qualifying will take place after the sun goes down.
Hamilton set the early pace on hard tyres but couldn't improve on his fastest effort of 1m28.314s when it came to using softs. Meanwhile, Verstappen enjoyed his soft-tyred running and eclipsed his rival midway through the session, improving to set the ultimate benchmark of 1m28.100s and leave Hamilton two-tenths behind in P2.
Sergio Perez improved to third – 0.529s behind his team mate – with a late effort to demote Yuki Tsunoda to fourth for AlphaTauri. Tsunoda's team mate Pierre Gasly managed fifth, but on medium tyres to the rookie's softs.
Gasly suffered a scary near-miss with a slow-moving Hamilton later on in the session, fortunately avoiding contact.
That left soft-shod Valtteri Bottas in P6 for Mercedes, nine-tenths off P1.
FORMULA 1 STC SAUDI ARABIAN GRAND PRIX 2021
Saudi Arabia 2021
Practice 3 results
|1 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||1:28.100|
|2 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes||+0.214s|
|3 Sergio Perez PER Red Bull Racing||+0.529s|
|4 Yuki Tsunoda TSU AlphaTauri||+0.541s|
|5 Pierre Gasly GAS AlphaTauri||+0.615s|
Charles Leclerc (P7) shrugged off his FP2 crash to finish just ahead of team mate Carlos Sainz (P8), leaving Esteban Ocon ninth for Alpine and Lando Norris 10th for McLaren. From P7 to P10 there was just two-tenths in it.
Fernando Alonso took 11th ahead of the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi in P12 and his team mate Kimi Raikkonen in 13th, leaving McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo 14th.
Williams kept pace with the Aston Martins, George Russell taking 16th and his team mate Nicholas Latifi 18th.
Aston Martin had an anonymous session, Lance Stroll suffering a puncture with just over 20 minutes left before a late effort put him 15th while team mate Sebastian Vettel took 17th.
Nikita Mazepin, like Gasly, was also shocked by the slow-moving Mercedes of Hamilton with the session ticking down but fortunately he also avoided a high-speed crash. "Not great at all," said FIA Race Director Michael Masi as he gave his take on the situation. The Russian finished 0.05s ahead of team mate Mick Schumacher, as the Haas drivers rounded out the standings, in P19 and P20 respectively.
So, Verstappen has the pace on the softs; Hamilton on the hards. Who will ace qualifying? The shootout follows at 2000 local time. Don't miss a second with F1.com's live coverage and up-to-date reaction.