Max Verstappen has topped final practice at the Australian Grand Prix as Red Bull Racing teammate Sergio Perez struggled with apparent car issues.
Verstappen saved his soft-tire run until late, setting a best time of 1m17.565s to pip Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso by 0.162s. Esteban Ocon completed the top three for Alpine, a further 0.211s adrift.
Teammate Perez endured a nightmare session with car problems that have left him underdone ahead of qualifying.
The Mexican, who is just one point behind in the championship table, spent the first 20 minutes of the session in the garage with work being undertaken on the rear of his car, but when he took to the track he reported bad car balance and an unusually loose rear end.
His first soft run was badly hampered by traffic, including a clash with Nico Hulkenberg, who almost put him in the outside wall on the run to Turn 11, while his second was ruined by a big lock-up into Turn 3 and a skip through the gravel.
Perez rejoined the track for a third stint on a new set of softs in the final 10 minutes, but again the lap was sketchy, and he ended up running through the grass at the penultimate corner on his first attempt, scrubbing his tires.
When he eventually strung a lap together, he was sixth and 0.558s adrift of his teammate, and promptly overran at Turn 2 for yet another trip through the stones.
“Ugh, I cannot believe this session,” he said.
To cap off his horror practice run, he arrived too late at the end of pit lane to do a practice start, forcing his mechanics to wheel him back to his garage.
Into the gap between Perez and his session-leading teammate slotted George Russell in fourth, who reported a lot of bottoming-out in his Mercedes car, and Pierre Gasly, whose Alpine was more than half a second adrift.
Rain stayed away for all but the final minutes of the hour, but overcast skies meant conditions remained chilly. The air temperature hovered just beneath 60 degrees F throughout the session, with the track temperature refusing to budge above 80 degrees F.
The late drops of rain almost undid Carlos Sainz’s afternoon when he slid off the road and towards the barriers at Turn 11, though the Spaniard came to a halt harmlessly in the barriers to claim seventh in the order.
Lewis Hamilton finished eighth ahead of Lance Stroll, while Zhou Guanyu completed the top 10 despite spinning his car through Turn 1-2 and just nudging the outside barrier, fortunately without damaging his Alfa Romeo.
Hulkenberg was 11th for Haas ahead of Alex Albon and Charles Leclerc, who had a long run through the gravel at Turn 1 late, while local favorite Oscar Piastri was 14th ahead of Valtteri Bottas.
Yuki Tsunoda was 16th ahead of Logan Sargeant, Kevin Magnussen and Nyck de Vries, while Lando Norris propped up the time sheet for McLaren in 20th, though the Briton never used the soft tire, instead spending the entire hour on mediums.