After what had been two lost practice session yesterday, the track finally got some running on it as the sun fought to break through the clouds this morning. Sebastian Vettel was the man to beat as he set the pace during the final practice session.
Unsurprisingly, the entire field headed straight out on track as the green flag fell, announcing that the track was live. In the early period of the hour-long session, it looked like teams were splitting the soft tyre and super soft compound between their two drivers. This, at least, was the case for Ferrari and Mercedes.
But it was Daniel Ricciardo who held the fastest time of a 1:35.647 before the qualification simulations started. Just after the halfway point, drivers started pitting for low fuel runs on the super-soft tyres to get the cars prepared and set up for qualifying that will be taking part later on today.
Ferrari seemed to be uncatchable as Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen stormed to the top of the timing board, making it a one-two for Ferrari. Raikkonen’s time only came in the closing stages of the session, but it was still too much for Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton to catch in their Mercedes. Raikkonen, who had been a way off the top three until his final flying lap, finished 0.053 seconds off for Vettel’s fastest lap time of a 1:33.336.
Bottas took position ahead of his teammate to secure third but was three-tenths off the pace of the Ferraris. Hamilton was two-tenths back on his teammate, leaving him half a second off Vettel’s pace.
Towards the start of the session, Bottas had a failure of his T-Wing which saw the thin piece of carbon fiber fly off the car. Luckily it flew off track into the gravel and did not cause any disruption to the session. However, it did mean the Finn was forced to complete the session with just the T-Wing support as it was not causing too much damage to Bottas’ lap time and it would have been too time costly to replace it. Whether or not the Finn will have a new T-Wing installed or if he will have to run the rest of the weekend without it is unknown.
Impressively, Felipe Massa put his Williams fifth fastest, forcing the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Ricciardo to take sixth and seventh respectively. The Red Bull does appear to be struggling with rear downforce again this weekend, even though it was Ricciardo commanding the pace at the start of the session.
Lance Stroll finished eighth, with Jolyon Palmer and Carlos Sainz Jr rounding off the top ten. It does seem to be closer, with the entire grid covered by 3.369 seconds (including two cars running last year’s engines), but the top four were still over a second clear of fifth-placed Massa.
With the rain supposed to fall tomorrow, the dry running data the teams collected could be completely useless come lights out tomorrow. But qualifying is set to be dry. With the chances of rain up to 90% throughout the day tomorrow, qualifying pole on the grid could be the difference between winning and losing the race.