Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton ended practice at the Qatar Grand Prix comfortably ahead of the pack after a second successive day of rear wing problems for Red Bull Racing.
Bottas was quicker than Hamilton around the new-to-F1 Losail International Circuit for the third straight session, topping the final practice hour by 0.078s. Despite FP3 taking place in unrepresentatively warm daytime conditions in comparison to qualifying or the race, the Finn lowered the track record by another 0.8s, down to 1m22.573s.
Red Bull had no answer to the Mercedes pace in the final practice hour, with Max Verstappen 0.341s off the pace in third and teammate Sergio Perez another 0.2 further back in fifth.
It was a particularly difficult session for title leader Verstappen who set just 10 laps, the lowest of the session bar one, after spending most of his time confined to his garage with a recurring rear wing problem.
The DRS flap on the RB16B has been seen oscillating while open on both cars since the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, and Red Bull Racing mechanics appeared to be undertaking repairs to Verstappen’s rear wing before the session started. An excursion over some curbs during the session then appeared to break the device a second time, forcing him back to the pits with little more than a single low-fuel run on the board.
The Dutchman made it back out in the final 10 minutes for one hot lap on fresh soft tires, but he couldn’t drag himself into striking distance — in fact it was barely enough to beat an earlier fast lap set by Hamilton on eight-lap-old softs nearer to the start of the hour.
Pierre Gasly was again the midfield standout, slotting into fourth after a pair of second-place classifications on Friday, the AlphaTauri driver only 0.525s off the headline pace.
Carlos Sainz was the lead Ferrari in sixth ahead of Alpine duo Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, with Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari sandwiching the blue cars from ninth. Yuki Tsunoda was the first driver more than a second off the pace, ending the hour 10th.
Daniel Ricciardo could manage only 11th in the lead McLaren, 1.4s slower than the benchmark but also 0.7s slower than Sainz’s Ferrari. Sebastian Vettel followed for Aston Martin in 12th ahead of Lando Norris in the second McLaren.
George Russell bounced back from a difficult Friday to take 14th ahead of Lance Stroll, who described his Aston Martin as “f***ing s**t” after a particularly uninspiring session for the Canadian, 1.8s off the pace.
Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi were 16th and 17th ahead of Nicholas Latifi’s Williams and Haas driver Mick Schumacher.
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Nikita Mazepin endured another torrid outing, the Russian retiring from the session without setting a lap. He was forced to stop at the end of the pit lane at the beginning of the session with an engine control unit problem that couldn’t be repaired in time for him to rejoin the session, leaving him on the cusp of qualifying with only FP1 experience of the Losail track under his belt.