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FP3: Bottas leads dominant Mercedes 1-2 ahead of Verstappen in final Qatar practice

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It was advantage Mercedes ahead of the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix qualifying session, with Valtteri Bottas carrying over his impressive form from Friday to lead a dominant one-two for the Silver Arrows in Free Practice 3 ahead of Lewis Hamilton – with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen over three-tenths adrift of the Finn in P3.

With conditions continuing hot and sunny at the 5.38km Losail International Circuit, FP3 had barely started before it was red flagged, as Nikita Mazepin – who was forced to sit out FP2 after Haas changed his chassis following substantial floor damage earned in the opening practice session – stopped just after the pit exit, Mazepin now suffering an issue on his power controller.

AS IT HAPPENED: Follow all the action from final practice for the Qatar Grand Prix

Following a brief stoppage, the drivers got down to the business of lapping in the balmy afternoon heat. With qualifying expected to be crucial around the narrow, twisting Losail track, the teams focused on dialling in their one-lap pace ahead of the Saturday evening session, with Bottas going fastest after the first set of runs at the halfway point in the 60-minute session.

But Bottas then improved his pace in the final minutes of the session, ultimately stopping the clocks with the fastest lap seen at the Losail International Circuit, a 1m 22.310s effort that was 0.078s fastest than Hamilton could manage.

Qatar 2021

Practice 3 results

PositionTeam NameTime
1BOT1:22.310
2HAM+0.078s
3VER+0.341s
4GAS+0.525s
5PER+0.536s
View Full Results

The best Red Bull could manage was Verstappen’s effort at the tail-end of the session, the Dutchman’s 1m 22.651s a full 0.341s off Bottas’ lap – and with Verstappen having had to spend a considerable amount of time in his garage during the session having his DRS actuator worked on.

He was ahead of the fourth-placed AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly, who impressed again to finish in front of the sister Red Bull of Sergio Perez, after surviving a bizarre low-speed spin at Turn 2 early in the session.

READ MORE: 5 things we learned from Friday practice at the Qatar Grand Prix

Carlos Sainz was the fastest Ferrari in P6, with the Alpine pairing of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon seventh and eighth, as Charles Leclerc took ninth in the second Ferrari – the Monegasque, like Gasly and Haas’ Mick Schumacher, also suffering a Turn 2 spin in the session.

Yuki Tsunoda was some way adrift of his team mate in P10, but set his best time on the medium tyres, the only driver, apart from 18th-placed Nicholas Latifi, to do so.

FP3 Highlights: 2021 Qatar Grand Prix

McLaren have a big fight on their hands to haul themselves back into contention with Ferrari in the fight for P3 in the constructors' championship this weekend. And they won’t have been cheered overly by their FP3 performance, with Daniel Ricciardo their fastest finisher in 11th, around seven-tenths off Sainz’s time, and ahead of the 12th-placed Sebastian Vettel.

Lando Norris took P13, ahead of Williams’ George Russell, with Lance Stroll a frustrated 15th, the Canadian told to “take it easy” by his engineer after an angry outburst about his Aston Martin’s performance, as he furiously beat his steering wheel.

WATCH: The Tech Talk team take a deep dive into DRS

The Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi were 16th and 17th, ahead of Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin, who failed to set a lap in the session after his early issues.

So, the wind is well and truly in Mercedes’ sails ahead of qualifying in Qatar – but can Red Bull find any way to get on terms with their rivals when the lights go down, the temperatures cool, and the all-important evening session gets under way at 1700 local time?

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