Hamilton edges out Verstappen in final practice


Ahead of today's sole practice session the air temperature is 27 degrees C, while the track temperature is 39 degrees.

While Max Verstappen set the pace yesterday morning - in similarly unrepresentative conditions - Lewis Hamilton was quicker in the afternoon, when it mattered.

Red Bull doesn't appear to have one-lap pace here but rather long-run pace, while, for once, Verstappen looks better on the softs than the mediums.

Having turned its session down for most of the day, Mercedes appears to have cranked it up for that special lap for Hamilton, so we wait to see if Honda has anything in reserve.

The Mercedes pair were split by Esteban Ocon with both the Alpine drivers looking strong, while Ferrari was also looking good.

Pirelli raised concern over the new aggressive kerbs - which it compares to those at Losail - and raised its fears with the FIA.

As a result those kerbs at Turns 5 and 9 have been ground down and made less aggressive - so presumably they are now simply nasty. Consequently, Pirelli has raised the recommended tyre pressures.

Other than the kerbs, track limits were an issue yesterday, for everyone, with Turns 7, 15 and 16 all being monitored.

The lights go green and Schumacher leads Ocon out into the sunshine.

In the pits, Perez has a higher downforce rear wing than his teammate.

Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas are among the early risers. The Mercedes pair are on hards while the Dutchman is on mediums.

Verstappen complains his dash is too dark and he can't see anything.

Ocon gets things underway with a 26.645 while Verstappen responds with a 24.997. Raikkonen (softs) splits the pair with a 25.826.

Stroll goes fourth (28.211) as most return to the pits.

Vettel is the sixth driver to post a time, the Aston Martin crossing the line at 27.802 as Verstappen improves to 24.828.

Hamilton heads out again on softs, as does Bottas.

The Briton immediately goes quickest in the first sector, as Bottas goes second overall (25.290).

Hamilton crosses the line at 24.241 to go top, while Perez goes fourth with a 25.581.

On softs, Giovinazzi goes fifth (25.710), ahead of Alonso, Raikkonen, Leclerc, Sainz and Tsunoda.

Bottas is advised that the track is four-tenths slower than in FP2 due to temperature and wind.

Perez leapfrogs the Finn with a 24.832 to go third as Hamilton ups the ante with a 24.055.

While the Mercedes pair are on the red-banded rubber, the Bulls stick with the mediums.

Latifi complains that his dash is loose as Leclerc improves to sixth and Ricciardo goes eleventh.

As Bottas goes purple in the first two sectors, Sainz improves to fifth overall with a 24.475. Bottas crosses the line at 24.025, 0.030s up on his teammate.

Probably the aforementioned wind but a number of drivers are encountering mid-corner snaps today.

A 24.723 sees Perez leapfrog his Red Bull teammate.

Norris goes sixth, ahead of Giovinazzi, Leclerc, Tsunoda and Alonso.

Tsunoda on hards improves to fifth with a 25.060. His AlphaTauri teammate is currently 12th.

Hamilton posts a 23.274 despite a hairy moment of oversteer in Turn 13. That puts him 1.554s clear of Verstappen and 0.751s ahead of his own teammate.

Gasly also on hards posts a 25.402 to go sixth.

Back in the pits, Hamilton gets out of his car satisfied that his work is down for now.

Meanwhile, not for the first time, mechanics are working on the rear wing on Verstappen's car. Indeed, a new rear wing is being fitted. It's the same low downforce spec as before.

Bottas heads out on fresh softs, followed by his teammate who clearly only went for a 'comfort break' ahead of the qualifying sims.

Following a mistake at Turn 1, Hamilton aborts his first flying lap. "I'm sliding the front tyres," he subsequently reports.

On mediums, Sainz improves to third, albeit 1.2s off Hamilton's pace.

Hamilton complains that his rears are "very hot", at which point Verstappen heads out on the softs. Perez is also on the red-banded rubber.

Giovinazzi improves to ninth with a 25.048, two spots behind his Alfa teammate.

Posting a PB in the opening sector, Verstappen aborts the lap after encountering locking up in Turn 6.

Tsunoda goes third (24.443) as Verstappen and Hamilton both complain of traffic.

For the second successive weekend, Mazepin has to take avoiding action in order to miss the world champion.

Hamilton subsequently locks-up at Turn 12 as Verstappen complains that his car wont "f******" turn in.

Verstappen is only in the final sector, having had a poor S1, but it's good enough for second (23.488), just 0.214s off Hamilton's pace.

Bottas posts a 24.025 to leapfrog Tsunoda, while Perez can only manage fifth.

"Woah, ****, lot of traffic," complains Tsunoda.

With 8 minutes remaining, Ricciardo, Alonso and Ocon have yet to run the softs.

Norris goes fourth with a 24.106, while Stroll improves to tenth (24.821).

A PB in S1 for Verstappen, a sector that actually favours the Mercedes. However he aborts the lap in Turn 9 after making mistake and almost losing the car.

"Should have gone back to the other tyres," says Hamilton, "these have got a flat-spot."

Strangely, Ocon is currently down in 18th. At which point he improves to 12th with a 24.834.

PBs in the final two sectors are enough to see Perez go fourth (24.047), albeit 0.773s off the pace.

"What the **** was that?" asks Gasly as something appears to drop from the gantry as he heads off for a final run.

The session ends. Hamilton is quickest, ahead of Verstappen, Bottas, Perez, Norris, Tsunoda, Gasly, Sainz, Ricciardo and Leclerc.

Stroll is eleventh, ahead of Ocon, Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Alonso, Vettel, Russell, Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin.

While Hamilton clearly has the edge, Red Bull appears to be focussing on the race as opposed to qualifying, aware that on single-lap pace, even with that low downforce package, the Mercedes cannot be beaten.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Yas Marina, here.

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Published: 11/12/2021
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