Ferrari and Red Bull sprang a surprise on Mercedes in Saturday afternoon’s final practice session for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, as Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen beat Max Verstappen to the top of the timesheets, leaving title contenders Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg only fourth and fifth.
Both Ferrari drivers made two qualifying simulation runs on the ultrasoft tyres, but interestingly Verstappen did only one, along with Hamilton and Rosberg.
Daniel Ricciardo was sixth in the second Red Bull, ahead of Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg. Williams driver Valtteri Bottas and Haas’s Esteban Gutierrez completed the top ten.
After Verstappen and team mate Ricciardo set the early pace on the supersoft tyres, with a time of 1m 42.461s and 1m 42.609s, Hamilton went fastest with 1m 42.120s on the same compound, with Rosberg fourth on 1m 42.695s.
As Ricciardo improved his laptime to 1m 42.401s for second, Hamilton complained of power loss which was traced to a de-ration of his engine.
After Rosberg improved to 1m 42.176s, Vettel went to the top with a lap of 1m 41.957s on the ultrasofts before Hamilton went back to first with 1m 41.065s to Rosberg’s 1m 41.168s on the purple-banded tyres. Later, however, Vettel took back first with a best of 1m 40.775s, half a second off Rosberg’s 2015 pole time and his own 2009 lap record.
Verstappen did his sole run on the ultrasofts at the end, by which time the Mercedes were doing race work, and jumped to second on 1m 40.912s as Raikkonen also overtook the Silver Arrows with 1m 40.999s.
Hamilton had complained of poor brakes during his run and never set a fastest sector time, and took fourth place with his 1m 41.065s, but clearly had potential to go quicker, as did Rosberg who ended up fifth ahead of Ricciardo who only did 1m 41.831s. That means qualifying will almost certainly see a different order to the top six.
Perez and Hulkenberg took Force India to seventh and eighth with 1m 41.885s and 1m 42.067s, as Bottas put his Williams ninth and Gutierrez surprised everyone with 10th for Haas ahead of McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, who sandwiched Renault’s Jolyon Palmer.
Williams’ Felipe Massa was only 14th after a spin in Turn 6, and Carlos Sainz 18th after a spin in Turn 18. The Toro Rossos were still looking worried about their rear rims as they operated under the eyes of FIA safety checks following Friday’s issues, and Daniil Kvyat was only 21st.