Max Verstappen completed a clean sweep of practice sessions at the Mexican Grand Prix but saw Red Bull’s advantage greatly reduced on Saturday morning.
While Red Bull was over a second clear of the rest of the field during the two Friday sessions, Verstappen was just a quarter of a second clear of Lewis Hamilton in FP3 as Mercedes and Ferrari both showed improved pace. Sebastian Vettel was third — only 0.028s slower than Hamilton — as an extremely tight battle for pole position starts to take shape.
The top three were still a clear step ahead of the rest, with Daniel Ricciardo nearly three quarters of a second off the pace in fourth, with just 0.031s separating him from Kimi Raikkonen in fifth and Charles Leclerc in sixth.
Mercedes will take heart from Hamilton’s pace but also has reliability concerns to contend with after Valtteri Bottas stopped on track and ended the session 19th in the standings.
Bottas came to a halt in the stadium section with 15 minutes of the session remaining, with smoke coming from the rear of the car. The Finn radioed his team to say he suspected a hydraulics failure, with FP3 neutralized by the Virtual Safety Car for four minutes while the Mercedes was removed.
Only Kevin Magnussen was below Bottas in the standings having only completed a solitary installation lap in a session that started on a damp track. Magnussen then required an intercooler change that kept him in the garage for the remainder of the morning.
After next to no running took place in the first half of the session due to the conditions — with installation laps taking place on intermediate tires — Fernando Alonso was first to sample the hypersofts with a little under 30 minutes remaining. Posting the first lap time of the session, Alonso was greeted with a light-hearted radio message from McLaren declaring: “We are P1, purple in every sector!”
Alonso eventually ended up in 15th, one position behind teammate Stoffel Vandoorne.
Renault was the surprise package of Friday with Carlos Sainz third in both sessions, but slipped back to seventh and 10th with Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg respectively, albeit still a second adrift of the pace-setting Red Bull as it had been in FP2.
Despite the tricky conditions, there were relatively few mistakes in the final hour of practice. Romain Grosjean had the most dramatic moment as he went off at first corner and complained about the curbs intended to deter such an error being “f***ing dangerous” after just failing to abort in time.
Lance Stroll was another driver to go off as he ran wide at Turn 8, and has been summoned to the stewards for not staying to the right of a similar curb when rejoining the track, as per the race director’s instructions.