Charles Leclerc set the fastest time of final practice at the Spanish Grand Prix to complete a clean sweep of all three sessions, while Mercedes continued to look competitive.
The championship leader had topped both of Friday’s sessions and duly followed-up with the fastest time in FP3, but on all three occasions he has been pushed closely. This time it was Max Verstappen who was second, just 0.072s adrift of Leclerc despite completing only 12 laps, in what was a slightly ominous show of pace given Red Bull’s long run performance on Friday.
Of more significance was the showing from Mercedes, however, with George Russell third and Lewis Hamilton fourth, both within a quarter of a second of Leclerc. While the defending constructors’ champion had been quick in Miami on Friday, that pace didn’t translate into Saturday on that occasion, but there was no repeat at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez rounded out the top six as less than half a second covered the top three teams. McLaren was not far off the pace either with Lando Norris in seventh, 0.631s adrift of Leclerc.
Norris’ performance was all the more notable as he was making up for lost time after missing most of FP2 when he damaged the car’s floor, with a chassis change overnight giving him plenty to work on during the final hour of practice.
Kevin Magnussen in eighth was the only other driver within a second of Leclerc, although it was a session of contrasting fortunes for Haas as Mick Schumacher suffered a fire.
The German returned to the pits with what looked like his right rear brakes on fire, and just as he hit the brakes to stop in his pit box that corner exploded, leaving him without sufficient braking. Schumacher reacted excellently to swerve through a small gap between his mechanics, with the front jack man able to jump out of the way and avoiding injury despite taking a tumble.
The fire took a little while to extinguish and caused sufficient damage to the rear of the car that Schumacher couldn’t return to the track, leaving him 19th overall after four laps.
It was an even worse session for Pierre Gasly, who suffered a heat shield issue and didn’t complete any significant running.
Gasly returned to the pits at the end of his installation lap with smoke emerging from the rear of his car and it was quickly wheeled back into the garage, with AlphaTauri immediately ruling the driver out of the rest of the session.
That was the start of a tough hour for AlphaTauri, with Yuki Tsunoda only 15th and outside a close fight for the final spots in the top ten, with Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo), Esteban Ocon (Alpine) and Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) covered by less than 0.2s from P9 to P12.