Max Verstappen was quickest in the opening 10 minutes of Saturday’s final practice for the Spanish Grand Prix, after which the rain changed the complexion of the session.
With rain forecast for 12:40 local time, light to start with and then increasing in intensity as George Russell was told, the drivers were quickly out onto the track for the start of the third and final practice at the Barcelona circuit.
Out on the soft Pirellis, Verstappen immediately went P1 with a 1:13.6, a quarter of a second up on Sergio Perez, with Lewis Hamilton P3 in the early running. Ferrari were also quickly out with their new-look sidepods – Carlos Sainz up to fourth place and Charles Leclerc P7 as the rain began to intensify.
Williams’ Logan Sargeant went flying off the circuit, bringing out the red flags, as he came a cropper out of the final corner with his FW45 flying through the gravel and into the barrier with Sargeant’s car suffering floor and left side damage.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he said, radioing in to tell his team he was “fine”.
The session resumed with 43 minutes on the clock but no immediate takers. In fact, the only person out and about was FIA technical director Jo Bauer walking down the pit lane with a piece of the Williams as the conditions were not comfortable for slicks but not wet enough for intermediates.
It wasn’t until 28 minutes remaining that Lando Norris headed out – only for the rain to come down harder and Norris discovered the track was too slippery in places for his intermediate tyres.
Alpine warned the rain would continue with Alan Permane predicting a mad flourish with 10 minutes remaining as the teams aimed to cover their bases just in case the rain sticks around for qualifying.
Leclerc tried his luck, out in his revised Ferrari, with Sainz following him down the pit lane. Wary of the extremely slippery white lines, the Ferrari teammates were joined by Esteban Ocon, Norris, and Kevin Magnussen, the latter’s boss summoned to the stewards during the session for his post-Monaco criticism.
Russell reported that, while it was raining, the “track just doesn’t seem that wet”… and, moments later, Ocon had a moment on the lines.
Despite being given an extra set of intermediate tyres, some of the drivers – including Lewis Hamilton – climbed out of their cars with Mercedes’ Bradley Lord declaring the driver knew “well enough” what needed to be done.
Meanwhile, Verstappen was out on track with his fastest lap in the rain up on Ocon’s. Asked how far the conditions were from slicks, Norris replied “tough” to say and told McLaren it would be best to put slicks on and try.
With that, Lance Stroll touched the white line and went off the track at Turn 5, eating up the gravel. He was told to box so that Aston Martin could “check the floor”.
Gambling on the slicks, Norris had a best time with 1:26 on the inters and upped that to a 1:21 on the slicks. That prompted others to swap to the slicks, including Hamilton, but the conditions meant no one was able to challenge Verstappen’s earlier P1 time.
He finished FP3 quickest with a 1:13.664, 0.250s up on Ocon with Hamilton 0.158s back despite a late argument with Red Bull over whether or not to push. Verstappen wasn’t in favour, the championship leader having more to lose than anyone else in the field.
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing 1:13.664
2 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.250
3 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.408
4 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.576
5 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.600
6 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.614
7 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.689
8 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +0.696
9 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +0.995
10 Lando NORRIS McLaren +1.017
11 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +1.017
12 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +1.029
13 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +1.092
14 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +1.324
15 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +1.441
16 Esteban OCON Alpine+1.602
17 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +1.870
18 Pierre GASLY Alpine +2.177
19 Alexander ALBON Williams +2.187
20 Logan SARGEANT Williams +2.865