Max Verstappen will start what promises to be a hotly contested qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix as Barcelona’s fastest man after topping final practice ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
Verstappen’s best time of 1m17.835s was built largely on a purple middle sector, after which he was almost half a second up on Hamilton, before a fumbled exit from the chicane brought his advantage back down to 0.235s.
Hamilton’s best lap also left time on the table, similarly through the chicane. The Briton should have gained with his final flying lap on the soft tire but took too much of the tall yellow curb to improve his time.
Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was similarly afflicted by mistakes through the last sector, leaving him fifth and almost 0.6s off Red Bull Racing’s headline pace.
Keeping the soft compound at peak performance through the lap emerged as a key theme from practice ahead of qualifying, with the delicate compound needing management through the first sector if it’s to offer enough grip to navigate the chicane at speed.
The new high-speed Turns 10–12 at the end of the back straight has added an extra challenge in this regard, increasing stress on the rubber in the final sector of the lap.
Splitting the two Mercedes drivers were Ferrari teammates Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, the pair separated by just a tenth of a second.
Behind Bottas slipped McLaren’s Lando Norris into the order. The Briton rebounded strongly from an underwhelming FP2 result on Friday afternoon to lap 0.659s off the pace, though his session was punctuated by a long trip through the enlarged gravel trap at the end of the back straight.
Pierre Gasly followed closely for AlphaTauri just 0.041s further adrift, while the second McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo finished eighth in the order and 0.088s behind his teammate.
Kimi Raikkonen ended final practice ninth and three quarters of a second slower than Verstappen despite picking up a puncture on set of soft tires.
Sergio Perez completed the top 10 for Red Bull Racing, the Mexican 0.771s slower than his leading teammate.
Alpine was less impressive after its strong Friday showing, Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon 11th and 13th and split by AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda.
Lance Stroll was Aston Martin’s quickest driver in 14th but the first of the field more than a second off the pace. George Russell followed for Williams ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi and Sebastian Vettel in the second Aston Martin.
Nicholas Latifi was 18th for Williams ahead of Haas rookies Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, the American team fielding the only car more than two seconds off the front-running pace.