Max Verstappen will lead the way into qualifying for the French Grand Prix after topping the final the practice session for Red Bull Racing at Circuit Paul Ricard.
The Dutchman was 0.747s quicker than second-best Valtteri Bottas after taking a new set of soft tires in the final quarter-hour. Both Bottas and Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton took their own new sets, but neither could improve.
Despite track temperatures being more than 50 degrees F cooler than Friday, Mercedes still seemed to struggle to keep the softest compound alive for an entire flying lap. Bottas actually set the session’s quickest first-sector time, but both he and Hamilton slipped behind the benchmark at the second split and were hemorrhaging time to Verstappen by the time they crossed the line.
Hamilton ended up a further 0.2s slower than Bottas, which dropped him to fifth behind a superb third-placed Carlos Sainz for Ferrari and Sergio Perez in fourth for Red Bull, the Mexican almost a full second slower than his session-topping teammate.
The result of final practice is a potential portent of a difficult pole shootout for Mercedes, but the times of the Saturday morning session are unlikely to trouble the team’s race outlook. The soft compound will be eschewed in the grand prix for its lack of durability, and the medium tire is quick enough to be used by those drivers vying for a place on the front half of the grid in Q2, when the starting rubber compounds are selected.
So precious are the harder tire compounds that only Aston Martin teammates Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel used anything other than the unloved soft tires throughout the session. Each had saved an extra set of hard tires from Friday and used them to evaluate setup changes made overnight, leaving their race day allocations no worse off.
Lando Norris was sixth for McLaren, the Briton less than 0.1s slower than Hamilton. He beat closely matched Alpine teammates Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, who ended seventh and eighth.
Pierre Gasly put his AlphaTauri ninth, completing all practice sessions this weekend in the top half of the time sheet. Daniel Ricciardo completed the top 10 for McLaren, the Australian just shy of half a second slower than Norris.
Charles Leclerc struggled with the soft tires relative to teammate Sainz on his way to 11th and 1.5s off the pace. Antonio Giovinazzi followed ahead of the Aston Martin teammates and Kimi Raikkonen.
George Russell was 16th for Williams ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, the AlphaTauri rookie frustrated to have had a fast lap deleted for going wide at Turn 6, which race control added to its list of corners being monitored for track limits breaches overnight.
Nicholas Latifi was 18th ahead of Haas duo Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin.