Scuderia Ferrari were in a class of their own in final practice for this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, with Charles Leclerc continuing his run at the top of the timesheets ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
For the final practice session, the Mercedes-AMG Motorsport cars of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, as well as Red Bull Racing‘s Max Verstappen were amongst those to increase their downforce levels, somewhat mimicking what the Ferrari’s did on Friday, in a bid to improve tyre temperature.
Red Bull opted not to do this for Pierre Gasly’s car as he will be starting from the pitlane on Sunday following his failure to stop at the weighbridge during Friday afternoon’s second session. Gasly was the first to set a time in final practice, with the #10 car needing to focus purely on race pace as qualifying for the Frenchman has become irrelevent.
Mercedes began the session on medium tyres, Bottas going fastest with Hamilton more than 1.2 seconds behind. The Ferrari’s, however, started the session on the soft tyres, with Leclerc going fastest by eight-tenths of a second, with Sebastian Vettel slotting in a tenth and a half behind his team-mate into second. An impressive showing by Lando Norris saw him post the fourth fastest time for the McLaren F1 Team early in the session.
With the track rubbering in and dust dissipating throughout the session, times were dropping with every lap, the Ferraris and the Mercedes were swapping fastest laps continuously.
As we reached the halfway point of the session, the midfield started their second runs. 2018 FIA Formula 2 race winner Alexander Albon posted an impressive lap to go fourth fastest in the Scuderia Toro Rosso closely followed by Racing Point F1 Team‘s Sergio Pérez and Kimi Raikkonen from Alfa Romeo Racing.
With ten minutes left on the clock, Verstappen went second quickest after picking up a tow on the main straight. The Ferraris, however, were in a league of their own on their finals runs of the session with Leclerc going one second quicker than his previous best time with a 1:41.604, his team-mate was two tenths behind in second place on a 1:41.802.
Verstappen ended 1.248 seconds adrift in third ahead of Bottas and Hamilton, the reigning World Champion ending 1.572 seconds off the pace as Mercedes seemingly have no answer to the pace of Ferrari.
The Toro Rosso’s continued to impress with Daniil Kvyat ending the session in sixth and Albon in eighth, either side of Kevin Magnussen of the Haas F1 Team, while Pérez and Räikkönen completed the top ten.
Daniel Ricciardo was the leading Renault F1 Team driver in eleventh ahead of the second Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi, the latter of whom will head into Qualifying later today knowing he will drop ten places on the grid due to a change of control electronics for this weekend.
Norris’ early pace could only translate into thirteenth at the end of the session ahead of team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr., while the second Racing Point of Lance Stroll was fifteenth fastest ahead of Nico Hülkenberg in the second Renault and Romain Grosjean in the second Haas.
Robert Kubica was the best of the two Williams Racing drivers in eighteenth ahead of team-mate George Russell, although this was the latter’s first true run of the weekend after his session-ending crash with a manhole cover on Friday morning. Both Williams’ at least ended up ahead of Gasly, who did not go for a qualifying simulation throughout the sixty minutes of running as he continued to focus on perfecting his set-up for race day.