Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel topped a fascinating final practice at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday, with the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg down in fourth and fifth, respectively.
Hamilton and Rosberg are to battle it out for the Formula One world title in Sunday’s race, but the Ferrari man showed his pace with a scintillating lap of one minute, 40.775 seconds. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was second quickest, with Vettel‘s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in third.
The drivers will be back on track later in the day for what is a crucial qualifying session ahead of the race; Rosberg will win the world title if he comes home in the top three on Sunday, while Hamilton must win and hope his rival finishes off the podium if he’s to retain the crown.
Here’s a closer look at the standings in full from FP3 and a recap of how things panned out at the Yas Marina circuit.
Here are the times in full from Saturday’s morning stint, per the F1 Twitter feed:
PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION: Two Ferraris in the top three after the final practice session of the 2016 season #AbuDhabiGP #F1Finale 🇦🇪 pic.twitter.com/fxcxk0kQ7P
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 26, 2016
In the early exchanges, both Hamilton and Rosberg opted for the supersoft tyre compound, which is a little slower than the ultrasoft. Subsequently, the gap between the Mercedes men and the rest of the field wasn’t so wide.
Indeed, the Red Bull pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Verstappen were mixing it at the summit of the standings as a result, with the former second behind Hamilton and ahead of Rosberg. The Pirelli Motorsport Twitter feed offered an insight into the game plans of the teams ahead of qualifying:
The tyre strategy for #FP3 is a simple one: use the tyres that you don’t think you’ll need for the rest of the weekend. #AbuDhabiGP
— Pirelli Motorsport (@pirellisport) November 26, 2016
Meanwhile, there was a brief scare for Hamilton during FP3 as he complained of a loss of power in his Mercedes. However, he was advised by his engineer “it looks like it was just an unexpected D-rate,” per BBC Sport.
On the ultrasoft compound, Ferrari’s pair of Vettel and Raikkonen were able to move to the top of the pile, with the latter just edging out his team-mate. Mercedes’ Twitter feed offered a warning to the rest of the field, though:
We spy UltraSofts…
Let’s see what they’ve got…#F1Finale #AbuDhabiGP #F1 #FP3
— MERCEDES AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) November 26, 2016
Rosberg was out first on the fastest tyre and did go to the top of the timesheet. But Hamilton, as he has done throughout the course of the practice sessions, was able to find an edge; a poor middle section from the German opened the door for his team-mate.
Clive Mason/Getty Images
Hamilton looked to have an edge on his team-mate once again.
Vettel wasn‘t done quite yet, though. The Ferrari man emerged on a fresh set of ultrasoft tyres for a qualification simulation lap and was the first man to dip below the 1:41 mark, moving to the top of standings in the process.
As noted by the Autosport Live Twitter feed, there was no great urgency from Mercedes to hunt down top spot:
Hamilton and Rosberg are back on track, but they have seven laps apiece on their tyres so Vettel’s time is not under threat. #F1
— Autosport Live (@autosportlive) November 26, 2016
While both Mercedes men retired to the garage late on, other drivers made further gains over the title challengers. First Verstappen jumped the Silver Arrows into second, before Raikkonen looked set to move to the summit after a brilliant beginning to his lap; however, some sloppy driving meant he could only muster third.
Mercedes may well have intentionally slowed ahead of qualifying and have upped the ante after FP3 previously this season. Regardless, an intriguing afternoon is in store in Abu Dhabi.