Abu Dhabi GP: Hamilton pips Verstappen in final practice of 2021

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was fastest in third and final practice for Formula 1's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, beating Red Bull rival Max Verstappen by two tenths ahead of the final qualifying session of 2021.

The afternoon session started with the usual install laps which, uncharacteristically, included both championship protagonists right from the start.

Verstappen immediately embarked on a medium tyre run and demoted Esteban Ocon's opener with a 1m24.997s lap. Later on in the run he lowered his early benchmark by a tenth with a 1m24.828s effort.

After 10 minutes, Hamilton came out on soft Pirelli tyres, which yielded a 1m24.241s lap to go top, while Valtteri Bottas entered the top three one second behind.

Hamilton then increased the gap to Verstappen to seven tenths of a second with a 1m24.055s lap, while the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez slotted in just 0.004s behind his teammate.

As many drivers sampled the harder compounds, Alfa Romeo's Antonio Giovinazzi spent the early stages in the top five behind the Mercedes and Red Bull cars thanks to a soft tyre run.

Before the halfway mark Bottas claimed top spot only for Hamilton to strike back with a 1m23.274s lap, while Perez leapfrogged his teammate to take over third.

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz and McLaren man Lando Norris were fifth and sixth at that stage, the first of the hard tyre runners.

Meanwhile, Verstappen was stuck in the garage for a rear wing swap as Red Bull trialled two different specs.

With his new wing, the Dutchman tried on the soft tyres, but he still wasn't happy with how his car was behaving, saying "it still doesn't turn in Turn 6, it's unbelievable" on the team radio after aborting a first push lap.

AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda briefly vaulted to third on softs, half a tenth ahead of Perez, until the frontrunners embarked on more qualifying simulations.

On his second attempt Verstappen did manage to make inroads on Hamilton's benchmark, his 1m23.488s just two tenths shy of his rival, while Hamilton also had to abort a lap after flat spotting a tyre.

As both title contenders seemingly struggled for grip, the earlier times held until the end, Hamilton heading into Saturday's final qualifying session of 2021 with a slight advantage over Verstappen.

Bottas and Perez were third and fourth, with Norris best of the rest in fifth. Tsunoda held on for sixth, just ahead of teammate Pierre Gasly.

Sainz, McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo and the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc locked out the top 10.

Outside the top 10 Aston Martin's Lance Stroll was 11th, followed by Ocon and Alfa Romeo duo Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi.

Former world champions Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel were 15th and 16th respectively.

George Russell and Nicholas Latifi were 17th and 18th for Williams, while Haas drivers Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin propped up the timesheets.

Cla Driver Chassis Laps Time Gap
1 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes 23 1'23.274
2 Netherlands Max Verstappen
Red Bull 23 1'23.488 0.214
3 Finland Valtteri Bottas
Mercedes 21 1'24.025 0.751
4 Mexico Sergio Perez
Red Bull 21 1'24.047 0.773
5 United Kingdom Lando Norris
McLaren 17 1'24.106 0.832
6 Japan Yuki Tsunoda
AlphaTauri 22 1'24.223 0.949
7 France Pierre Gasly
AlphaTauri 22 1'24.251 0.977
8 Spain Carlos Sainz Jr.
Ferrari 20 1'24.595 1.321
9 Australia Daniel Ricciardo
McLaren 16 1'24.733 1.459
10 Monaco Charles Leclerc
Ferrari 21 1'24.758 1.484
11 Canada Lance Stroll
Aston Martin 22 1'24.821 1.547
12 France Esteban Ocon
Alpine 18 1'24.834 1.560
13 Finland Kimi Raikkonen
Alfa Romeo 23 1'25.037 1.763
14 Italy Antonio Giovinazzi
Alfa Romeo 18 1'25.048 1.774
15 Spain Fernando Alonso
Alpine 19 1'25.094 1.820
16 Germany Sebastian Vettel
Aston Martin 25 1'25.115 1.841
17 United Kingdom George Russell
Williams 22 1'25.220 1.946
18 Canada Nicholas Latifi
Williams 19 1'25.322 2.048
19 Germany Mick Schumacher
Haas 18 1'25.340 2.066
20 Russian Federation Nikita Mazepin
Haas 19 1'26.332 3.058
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