Charles Leclerc was once again quickest in final practice for the Austrian Grand Prix with Ferrari looking a real threat for pole position.
Quickest in the chaotic FP2 session on Friday, Leclerc set the pace with a 1m03.987s to lead Lewis Hamilton by 0.143s. It was a close session again at the front of the field, with the top four — also featuring Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel — covered by a little over a quarter of a second on the short lap at the Red Bull Ring.
Ferrari’s straight-line speed advantage is paying dividends in Austria, where the team will look to add to pole positions in Bahrain and Canada.
Red Bull was fifth fastest with Max Verstappen but the 2018 Austrian GP winner was complaining the changes made to the car had not improved its handling, as he ended up over 0.4s off the pace and an outsider in the pole position battle.
Lando Norris was sixth as McLaren continued to look strong, ending up as the only other driver within a second of Leclerc’s time in the final practice session. Norris split the two Red Bulls, although Pierre Gasly had an interrupted session due to reliability issues.
Gasly reported “really low power” early on, and spent much of the first half of the session in the pits as the issue was investigated. Gasly still managed 15 laps but was struggling to find improvements with his final runs and was 0.7s adrift of his teammate Verstappen.
Carlos Sainz, Antonio Giovinazzi and Daniil Kvyat rounded out the top 10, although Sainz has a grid penalty that means he will start from the back of the grid.
Alexander Albon was 11th ahead of Nico Hulkenberg in 12th, but both will have grid penalties after taking new power unit components. Albon starts at the back of the grid while Hulkenberg drops five places for a new internal combustion engine (ICE).
After the chaos of FP2 — where Bottas and Verstappen both crashed and Vettel had a dramatic spin — there were few major incidents, with Romain Grosjean suffering a big lock-up and going straight on at Turn 3 with Hamilton appearing to distract him in the braking zone.
There was a reliability concern on the other side of the Haas garage as Kevin Magnussen’s car required a gearbox change. The Dane completed just 11 laps and set his best time on the medium tire before having to curtail his session, ending up 18th overall ahead of the Williams pair of George Russell and Robert Kubica. The new gearbox will mean a grid drop of five positions for Magnussen.