Sebastian Vettel set the pace in the final practice session for the Brazilian Grand Prix as Red Bull opted to focus on race performance.
While Max Verstappen was quickest in FP1 and admitted Red Bull was closer to Mercedes and Ferrari than expected, the Dutchman tweeted on Saturday morning that the focus would be race pace as Red Bull still expected to be unable to challenge for the front row. Vettel duly opened up a clear advantage, beating Lewis Hamilton by over 0.2s and Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen by half a second.
Hamilton was not fully happy with his first timed lap on supersoft tires, while he’d also lost a bit of track time early on. The world champion had to abort his first run of the session when a breather pipe worked loose, so Mercedes called him back into the pits to rectify the issue and check the car before sending him back out.
Vettel posted a new track record with a 1m07.948s, and was over three quarters of a second faster than Verstappen, with Daniel Ricciardo just 0.055s slower than his teammate but facing a five-place grid drop after qualifying.
Haas continued its strong form with Kevin Magnussen in seventh and Romain Grosjean eighth, while Pierre Gasly moved up into the top 10as Toro Rosso switched to the latest specification of Honda power unit in FP3.
Charles Leclerc rounded out the top 10, ending the session just 0.013s ahead of Nico Hulkenberg as the Renault driver bounced back from his crash in second practice.
As in FP1, there was little in the way of mistakes or incidents, though Stoffel Vandoorne came close to an unusual collision, telling his race engineer: “Err… I’m not sure if I hit a bird into Turn 11,” but the message came back that he had missed contact and suffered no damage.
Vandoorne still ended up slowest of the 20 runners as McLaren appeared to slip back from its Friday position closer to the top 10, with Fernando Alonso only 18th, the pair sandwiching Sergio Perez in final practice. Perez complained of poor track position on his supersoft tire run, and teammate Esteban Ocon was 12th but is set to take a five-place grid penalty this weekend for taking a new gearbox.