Max Verstappen topped his first session of the Saudi Arabian weekend, quickest in third place by two-tenths ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
While Mercedes set the pace in both Friday sessions, Verstappen came to the fore in the final practice before qualifying. His 1:28.100 the fastest time seen so far.
Traffic and the blind corners once again caused chaos with Nikita Mazepin and Hamilton having a very, very close encounter.
News coming through prior to the start of the practice session was that while Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari was in a top shape, the team having repaired it over night, the driver wasn’t after his high-speed crash in Friday’s second practice. With his head have been jerked around in the impact, the Monégasque driver was said to be feeling rather sore today.
— tami. (@Vetteleclerc) December 4, 2021
Haas’ Nikita Mazepin clocked the opening lap time, a 1:33.7, but P1 was down to a 1:29.605 after the first 15 minutes, Lewis Hamilton at the top of the timesheet having gone for a double warm up lap on the hard tyres.
Kimi Raikkonen, in his penultimate grand prix, was P2 on the soft tyres ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Antonio Giovinazzi. Hamilton’s next hot lap saw the Briton get it wrong at Turn 1, locking up and using the run off before spinning his way back onto the track.
Max Verstappen only posted his first lap time 20 minutes into the session, the championship leader putting in a 1:29.8 to go P3 behind Hamilton and Carlos Sainz. Make that behind Sergio Perez, Hamilton and Sainz. And then Hamilton went faster still, a 1:29.197, while Bottas made it a Mercedes 1-2.
As the drivers continued to lay down the laps, Hamilton was quickest at the halfway mark with a 1:28.314, Verstappen was up to second, 0.335s down, with Pierre Gasly up in third place. Hard, soft, medium the tyre choice of the top three.
Shortly after, as the circuit’s lights began to take over from the natural light as the sun set, Verstappen made his first appearance of the session in P1, a 1:28.212. Told of Verstappen’s time, Hamilton downplayed it.
Lance Stroll was told to pit by his pit wall, Aston Martin suspecting he had a puncture. He returned to the garage, his AMR21 up on jacks while his mechanics were seen examining his rear wing.
The traffic drama that drivers spoke about on Friday played out as Mazepin had a very, very scary moment with Hamilton.
On a hot lap, the Haas driver came within a foot, maybe two, of rear-ending Hamilton who thankfully was aware at the last second and moved just enough. A few corners earlier Hamilton had a moment with Gasly, another where the Mercedes driver was in the way of a driver on a hot lap.
Lewis Hamilton qui bloque Pierre Gasly et Nikita Mazepin en tour rapide.
— Off Track (@OffTrack_FR) December 4, 2021
Michael Masi FIA to Haas after the American team buzzed him to ask his opinion about the Mazepin/Hamilton incident.
Masi: “Not great at all, which is why I will deal with it with the team directly, and I’ve also had a chat to them here, because there was no flags of any form shown through that sector.”
New soft tyres for Verstappen had him lowering the benchmark to a 1:28.105. He was up in P1 heading into the final 10 minutes of the session. His team-mate Perez joined him at the sharp end, the Red Bull team-mates separated by Hamilton. Yuki Tsunoda was P4 for AlphaTauri.
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:28.100 20 laps
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.214s 23 laps
3 Sergio Perez Red Bull 0.529s 21 laps
4 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 0.541s 20 laps
5 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 0.615s 22 laps
6 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 0.919s 19 laps
7 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1.001s 22 laps
8 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1.049s 19 laps
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1.077s 19 laps
10 Lando Norris McLaren 1.200s 18 laps
11 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1.318s 21 laps
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 1.490s 20 laps
13 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 1.589s 24 laps
14 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1.624s 19 laps
15 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1.930s 14 laps
16 George Russell Williams 1.934s 17 laps
17 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 2.339s 15 laps
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams 2.266s 17 laps
19 Mick Schumacher Haas 2.833s 20 laps
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas 2.879s 23 laps
How Verstappen can win the title in Saudi Arabia
Max Verstappen could win the title in Saudi Arabia.