Max Verstappen denied title rival Lewis Hamilton an unbeaten run at the top of the practice times by going fastest in Saturday’s final session ahead of qualifying for the first-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The Red Bull driver lapped the high-speed sweeps of the Jeddah street track in 1m28.100s 0.214s faster than the Mercedes man.
Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez was third 0.529s off the pace with Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda and AlphaTauri teammate Pierre Gasly making it four Honda-powered cars in the top five.
Verstappen leads Hamilton by eight points in the overall standings and has his first shot at clinching a maiden title this weekend. But Hamilton, who is on a roll after back-to-back victories in Brazil and Qatar, is gunning for a third win in a row to force a showdown at next week’s finale in Abu Dhabi.
The seven-time champion, who was fastest in both of Friday’s two practice sessions, had set the early pace on the hard tire.
Verstappen was among the last drivers to take to the track, 14 minutes into the session. The Dutchman initially cruised around on what appeared to be constant-speed aero runs before cranking it up and setting his first representative attempt.
He vaulted to the top of the timesheets with a little under half an hour to go, and then lowered his benchmark twice more on his way to his eventual fastest effort.
Like on Friday, teams appeared to struggle to switch on the soft tires. It took Verstappen four “push” laps to beat Hamilton’s initial hard-tire shod benchmark but was then able to extract maximum performance from the softs much sooner on subsequent attempts.
Hamilton and Mercedes struggled more in comparison, the Briton’s early, session-leading, hard-tire effort remaining his quickest.
He was also involved in two hair-raising incidents when he appeared to impede Gasly and then the Haas of Nikita Mazepin, who had to resort to cat-like reactions to avoid the cruising Mercedes.
Valtteri Bottas in the other Mercedes was sixth. Charles Leclerc, his Ferrari repaired and ready to go after his heavy crash on Friday, was seventh ahead of teammate Carlos Sainz. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and McLaren’s Lando Norris completed the top-10.
Fernando Alonso in the other Alpine was 11th, ahead of Alfa Romeo team mates Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen. Australian Daniel Ricciardo was 14th.
Lance Stroll, who suffered a puncture, was 15th for Aston Martin ahead of Williams driver George Russell, teammate Sebastian Vettel and the other Williams of Nicholas Latifi.
Mick Schumacher and Mazepin propped up the timesheet for Haas.