Ferrari secured a one-two in the final practice session for the Russian Grand Prix, but Max Verstappen’s true pace was masked by a spin.
Charles Leclerc was fastest for the second time this weekend, ensuring he finished all three practice sessions in the top two. Leclerc was 0.316s clear of team-mate Sebastian Vettel, with all the time coming in the lower speed final sector.
Lewis Hamilton was third for Mercedes but had complained on team radio about the difficulty closing the gap to Ferrari earlier in the session, ending up 0.4s adrift of Leclerc. Valtteri Bottas was 0.2s further back, making Ferrari the favorite heading into qualifying this afternoon.
Verstappen had demonstrated Red Bull’s speed by going fastest in FP2, but he suffered a spin late on at Turn 13 after carrying too much speed into the corner. Verstappen barely touched the barrier with the rear wing, but while the car was not damaged, the incident ruined his soft tire lap and left him 1.4s off the pace in fifth place.
Romain Grosjean split the two Red Bulls in sixth for Haas; Alexander Albon’s struggles in Sochi continuing as he was 0.15s slower than his team-mate despite Verstappen’s spin. However, it was a bleaker picture at Toro Rosso, where Daniil Kvyat suffered more reliability concerns.
Kvyat missed out on plenty of running in FP3 in Singapore due to an oil leak and dropped out in Q1 as a result, and this weekend had started with a problem in FP1 that forced him to stop on the track and miss the majority of the session. Another reliability issue struck the Russian at his home race on Saturday when Kvyat reported a problem with his power unit and pulled over at Turn 1, ending up 19th overall after completing just four laps.
Behind Albon, Nico Hulkenberg, Lando Norris and Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top 10, although the true pace of the Racing Point was also not seen. Racing Point looked competitive on Friday but Sergio Perez had a massive lock up at the tricky Turn 13 – where drivers are braking heavily while turning slightly left – and had to spin his car round in the run-off area after ruining a set of tires, ending his session after seven laps.
It looks set to be a close fight for Q3 in Sochi as the midfield remains closely matched with Grosjean in sixth less than 0.3s clear of Carlos Sainz in 13th. A number of drivers ran a little wide as they pushed the track limits – the astroturf in run-off areas still wet following heavy morning rain – but there was no significant damage from any excursions.