Lewis Hamilton will start the crucial final qualifying session as the fastest man after beating title rival Max Verstappen in final practice in Abu Dhabi.
The Briton blazed a blistering pace throughout the hour, which he spent predominantly on the fastest soft-compound tire, progressively lowering the bar until he was more than a second quicker than Verstappen with 10 minutes remaining with a best time of 1m23.274s.
Verstappen’s first half-hour was more subdued, spent on the slower medium-compound tire before being recalled to his garage for a rear wing change. Red Bull Racing had identified a potential reliability issue and mechanics were seen analyzing the DRS actuator — a known problem part for the RB16B — before making the wholesale change to the car to try to maintain a lower-downforce package in an attempt to keep pace with Mercedes down the straights.
Subsequently onto the soft compound, the Dutchman was able to lap closer to the ultimate pace. After aborting his first lap on softs to a frustrating moment of understeer through Turn 6 at the end of the first back straight, his second attempt at a flyer got him to within 0.214s of Hamilton’s benchmark. He would have inched closer still on the same set of tires but for a snap of oversteer through the new banked Turn 9.
Even so, Verstappen’s quickest time was fast enough to put him more than half a second clear of the battling Mercedes and Red Bull Racing teammates, with Valtteri Bottas 0.751s slower than his pace-setting teammate and Sergio Perez a further 0.022s adrift.
However, the unrepresentative pre-sunset conditions, warmer than the twilight qualifying hour and the Sunday grand prix, mean that only so much can be read into the pace breakdown, particularly given how difficult it was to keep the soft tire from overheating near the end of the lap.
📻 "The rears are very hot" Lewis tells his Mercedes team
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Lance Norris was fifth, just over 0.8s off the pace, while Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly were a further 0.1s back in sixth and seventh. Carlos Sainz led the way for Ferrari in eighth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Charles Leclerc to complete the top 10.
Lance Stroll was 11th ahead of Esteban Ocon, who couldn’t repeat his loftier Friday times for Alpine, before Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi slotted into the order in 13th and 14th.
Fernando Alonso beat Sebastian Vettel to 15th, while Williams teammates George Russell and Nicholas Latifi and Haas duo Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin rounded out the classification.