Max Verstappen emphatically topped final practice at the Bahrain Grand Prix for Red Bull Racing in an ominous warning shot to Mercedes ahead of qualifying later today.
Verstappen left his soft-tire run until the final 10 minutes of the hour-long session as the day crept towards sunset to usurp Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes by 0.739s. All but 0.139s of the Dutchman’s advantage came in the middle sector, which comprises the majority of the circuit’s corners.
Hamilton was second best, but at almost three-quarters of a second off the pace, Mercedes will be hoping the cooler night-time conditions of qualifying and the race bring the circuit towards its troubled W12.
Pierre Gasly slotted into third in another impressive outing for AlphaTauri, lapping a second off the pace but almost 0.3s quicker than Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes in fourth.
Bottas looked uncomfortable in the car for much of the afternoon. It took the Finn until the final 20 minutes to set a representative time after almost all his earlier running on the soft tire was expunged from the record for exceeding track limits, and he was half a second slower than his teammate when he eventually strung a clean lap together.
Sergio Perez was fifth in the order, just 0.053s behind Bottas but 1.3s off the pace of his teammate. The Mexican admitted on Friday night that he still had work to do to unlock the RB16B’s single-lap pace.
Carlos Sainz put Ferrari fourth by the end of the session but unusually opted against using the soft tire, instead setting his best time on the medium compound. He was 1.5s adrift of Verstappen’s benchmark.
Kimi Raikkonen followed in seventh for Alfa Romeo a further tenth adrift, while Esteban Ocon took Alpine into the top 10 for the first time this weekend with eighth and 1.8s off the pace.
Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll was just 0.008s slower than Ocon for ninth, with Daniel Ricciardo 0.046s in arrears for 10th on the time sheet.
Charles Leclerc was 11th for Ferrari, also without making use of the soft tire, ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi in 12th.
AlphaTauri rookie Yuki Tsunoda was 13th ahead of Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel in 14th, the German returning to the track from a brief break early in the session after being struck in the head by a small piece of debris.
Fernando Alonso was 15th for Alpine and 2.2s off the pace, fractionally ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris in 16th.
George Russell was Williams’s highest-placed driver in 17th and 2.7s off the pace. Haas teammates Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin followed, the latter unimpeded by a spin at Turn 5 early in the session, while Nicholas Latifi brought up the rear for Williams.