Lewis Hamilton denied Max Verstappen a practice hat-trick ahead of qualifying for the Styrian Grand Prix.
But while a two-tenth gap between the two title rivals suggests somewhat of a Mercedes fightback at the Red Bull Ring, Verstappen did experience traffic problems in his latest push laps and will still be considered favourite for pole position on Saturday afternoon.
The strength of Mercedes’ rivals and the engine they have at their disposal was underlined by the fact that all four-Honda powered cars were part of the top six in the final standings alongside the two Mercedes drivers.
Like Friday, there was once again the threat of thunderstorms at the Red Bull Ring but it was yet another bright start to proceedings as the track light went green.
As is usually the case in final practice, it was slow and gradual build-up to the track action, but it was Verstappen who brought the session alive just before the halfway point as he pumped in a 1:05.571 with his first push lap – that was just a tenth off the fastest time he set on Friday in second practice.
Hamilton’s response put him back to within three tenths of Verstappen, but Gasly, Perez and Tsunoda all went better in their Honda-powered cars compared to the seven-time World Champion, pushing him back down to P5.
Verstappen then upped the ante even further, becoming the first driver this weekend to post a time in the 1:04 benchmark.
The Mercedes reply would not have been one that necessarily troubled Red Bull. Bottas could only close to within seven tenths and Hamilton, despite going fastest of anyone through the final sector, was still the best part of four tenths off the pace.
Bottas went for another hot lap on the same red-striped soft tyres, but could not find any further improvement.
Following a brief lull in the action, it was time for the second round of qualifying simulation runs, the last before the actual qualifying session takes place on Saturday afternoon.
Mercedes were the first of the big boys to head back out and it was Hamilton who was able to lower the benchmark with a 1:04.369. Four tenths quicker than what Bottas was able to manage.
With the track at its busiest, Verstappen patiently waited in the garage and did not re-emerge again until the final eight minutes of the session for his final qualifying sim run.
Verstappen still had a bit of traffic to negotiate on his first attempt and will go some way to explaining why he was only able to close to within two tenths of Hamilton to go P2.
After a cool-down lap and the track much quieter, Verstappen had one final crack at re-taking top spot…
He found improvement, but it was only very marginal and ensured top spot in FP3 would go the way of Hamilton.The marginal improvement did not count, in fact, as Verstappen saw his last effort deleted for exceeding track limits.
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:04.369
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull 0.204s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 0.463s
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull 0.657s
5 Lando Norris McLaren 0.859s
6 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1.150s
7 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 0.929s
8 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1.031s
9 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 0.971s
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1.076s
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1.123s
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 1.187s
13 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1.307s
14 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1.329s
15 George Russell Williams 1.496s
16 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 1.573s
17 Mick Schumacher Haas 1.623s
18 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1.747s
19 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1.750s
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas 2.323s
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