Max Verstappen led a close final practice session for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, edging out the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
The final qualifying session of the season looks set to be a tight battle for pole between the top three teams, as Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari were all covered by just 0.4s in FP3. Verstappen led the way with a 1m36.566s, but was less than 0.1s clear of both Hamilton and Bottas. The latter, though, will start the race from the back of the grid.
Bottas actually took another new power unit on Saturday after Mercedes discovered a pneumatic leak at the end of FP2 that couldn’t be fixed. A new internal combustion engine (ICE), turbo, MGU-H and MGU-K comes with no penalty as the Finn was already set to start last for an earlier power unit change.
It is understood that the new power unit Bottas is running this weekend is of different specification to the one previously introduced by Mercedes, with an eye on its 2020 development.
Alexander Albon was fourth quickest in the second Red Bull, just over 0.3s adrift of his team-mate and just 0.048s ahead of the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. With Charles Leclerc sixth and less than half a second off the pace, any one of the those drivers look capable of fighting for pole on Saturday evening.
In a session that was largely devoid of drama, Albon was also involved in the one incident of note. He ran off track at Turn 16 after fast closing on Nico Hulkenberg who was slow on the racing line. Both drivers summoned to the stewards after the session to discuss the matter.
Seventh in the final session was Sergio Perez as Racing Point showed strong pace, although he did have a reliability concern as oil was escaping from the rear of his car. The issue was highlighted when Kimi Raikkonen, following the Mexican, wound up covered in oil, but the team was confident the issue was not a major one. Perez ended up within a second of Verstappen at the checkered flag.
Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly rounded out the top 10, with the latter pair fighting for sixth in the drivers’ championship as they both currently have 95 points.
Haas was competitive once again, with Romain Grosjean 11th and Kevin Magnussen 14th after just 12 laps in a session that is of limited value given the track conditions. Temperatures will drop significantly by qualifying, with that session taking place at sunset.