Max Verstappen returned Red Bull Racing to the top of the time sheet in a warm final practice at the Austrian Grand Prix. The Dutchman’s best time of 1m 4.591s around the Red Bull Ring beat Valtteri Bottas’s best by 0.538s to put him in the box seat for pole later today.
Lewis Hamilton was third and 0.686s off the pace after having his best lap on fresh softs deleted for exceeding track limits exiting the final corner, but even that lap would have put his Mercedes around 0.4s behind Verstappen’s benchmark, just ahead of Bottas.
The soft compound was in almost universal use through the 60-minute session ahead of qualifying. Pirelli is using its most delicate tire, the C5, as this weekend’s soft compound, and with warm weather rolling in after a mild Friday and track temperatures nudging 120 degrees F, rubber preparation for a flying lap will be key to executing a clean qualifying lap.
To that end race director Michael Masi issued a note to teams on Saturday morning that drivers should not weave or drive unnecessarily slowly between the last two corners, where a drivers on a preparation lap could potentially be dangerously sandwiched between cars on a flying lap and those entering pit lane. Traffic jams will instead form around Turns 7 and 8, at the beginning of a third sector.
Pierre Gasly mastered the conditions and the grippy tires to finish fourth for AlphaTauri just 0.003s slower than Hamilton. Antonio Giovinazzi followed for Alfa Romeo in fifth, three-quarters of a second off the pace.
Carlos Sainz was sixth despite the Spaniard reporting difficult keeping the soft compound alive for the entire lap inside his Ferrari, with the team’s tire woes of the French Grand Prix undoubtedly fresh in his memory.
Sergio Perez was seventh in the sister RB16B, the Mexican a full 0.805s slower than his teammate after spending some time on the hard tire early in the session.
Fernando Alonso was eighth for Alpine ahead of Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari and Aston Martin teammates Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll in 10th and 11th.
Yuki Tsunoda finished 12th after spectacularly saving a high-speed off at Turn 9 early in the hour. The Japanese rookie lost control of his car entering the turn and rotated almost 180 degrees over the gravel, but he managed to recover control and right his car over the asphalt run-off outside Turn 10, avoiding what could have been substantial damage just hours before qualifying.
A great catch by Yuki! 🎣
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 3, 2021
Esteban Ocon was 13th ahead of George Russell, with McLaren teammates Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo following in 15th and 16th, although Norris had quicker times deleted in a scruffy session for the Briton.
Kimi Raikkonen was 17th ahead of Mick Schumacher, Nicholas Latifi and Nikita Mazepin.