Verstappen sets the pace in final practice in Jeddah

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Championship leader Max Verstappen will head into this evening's Saudi Arabian GP qualifying session as the fastest driver in free practice, the Red Bull charger edging Lewis Hamilton by 0.214s in FP3.

Behind the leading duo, Sergio Perez clocked in third, the Mexican extracting some good speed from his RB16B, while AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly made if four Honda engines among the top five in final practice.

For all the warnings about Jeddah's treacherous pitfalls, Friday's session was remarkably uneventful save for Charles Leclerc massive crash at the end of the session.

Ferrrai has rebuilt the Monegasque's SF21 and he has vowed to repair his hard-working crews with a good result this weekend, and hopefully in qualifying that will be key this evening.

Track temperatures were set at 35.5° C when FP2 kicked off with air temp at 29.3° C.

Installation laps were the norm at the outset, as usual. But after a brief leadership at the top of the timesheet assumed by the valiant Kimi Raikkonen, Hamilton popped in a 1m29.605s on the hard tyres to go fastest.

The seven-time world champion was followed early on by Ferrari's Carlos Sainz while Verstappen nursed his softs over two slow laps to line up third.

However, the trio was overhauled in short order by Sergio Perez, but the Mercedes drivers quickly returned the favour to recoup their lead, and Hamilton's 1m28.314s flyer on the hard tyre was an ominous sign for his rivals for qualifying although this evening's session will take place under very different track conditions.

But a soft-shod Verstappen responded with a 1m28.212s that put the Dutchman 0.102s clear of the Mercedes. Hamilton then bolted on a set of softs of his own but oddly failed to improve, indicating that the red-rimmed compound isn't Mercedes' friend in Jeddah, a fact that may play out in favour of Red Bull in qualifying.

As if to prove the latter point, Verstappen went faster on a new set of softs, albeit by just a tenth of a second.

Meanwhile, Hamilton, running at a leisurely pace, got in the way of the fast-approaching cars of both Gasly and Mazepin, and both drivers did a good job of avoiding a collision with the Mercedes driver.

The efficiency of AlphaTauri's package at Jeddah, already proven by Gasly, was further confirmed by his teammate Yuki Tsunoda, who popped up to fourth just ahead of the Frenchman and behind Verstappen, Hamilton and Perez with less than ten minutes to go.

The positions among the top five remained unchanged as the final dress rehearsal came to its conclusion, with Verstappen thus heading into qualifying as the final pace setter.

Behind the leading quintet, Bottas, Leclerc, Sainz, Ocon and Norris rounded off the top ten, with a tight spread separating the top midfield runners which augurs for several very big battles up and down the field in tonight's all-important grid-defining session.

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