Max Verstappen will head into the final Formula 1 qualifying session of the year with the fastest time of third practice at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The Red Bull Racing driver’s best time came on his second run on a set of soft tires in the final five minutes, lowering the benchmark to 1m36.251s, the fastest lap of the weekend so far.
It was enough to beat teammate Alex Albon by half a second, the Thai driver improving late despite complaining of extreme understeer through the session. Renault teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon followed 0.65s off the pace, both similarly finding time towards the conclusion of final practice.
Late improvements were the order of the 60-minute session, which featured no running for almost 20 minutes before the first cars took to the track, the unrepresentative afternoon sun warding off teams ahead of the twilight qualifying and race sessions.
Lando Norris slotted into fifth and 0.74s adrift, nudging just 0.02s ahead of Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton.
The Briton trailed pace-setter Verstappen all session, prompting him to query his team where he was losing time. The reply came that Verstappen’s advantage was exclusively in a straight line, strongly suggesting Red Bull Racing’s relative advantage is purely down to Mercedes running a conservative power unit mode — particularly understandable given engines are coming to the end of their life cycles at the final weekend of the year.
The German marque is expected to recover its pace in time for qualifying, when engine mode for the race must be set.
Lance Stroll was seventh for Racing Point ahead of McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, with Valtteri Bottas following in the second Mercedes in 10th. Sergio Perez — doomed to start last on the grid with a power unit penalty — completed the top 10.
Daniil Kvyat was the first driver to lap a second off Verstappen’s pace, finishing 11th and just 0.004s ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. Their respective teammates followed, Pierre Gasly and Sebastian Vettel 13th and 14th respectively.
George Russell ended the session 15th for Williams ahead of Alfa Romeo drivers Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen, the Finn in a car featuring a newly reconstructed rear end after his engine expired in fiery fashion at the end of FP2.
Kevin Magnussen was 18th for Haas ahead of Williams rookie Nicholas Latifi and Haas sub Pietro Fittipaldi.