By Mark Mann-Bryans, Jeddah
Max Verstappen beat title rival Lewis Hamilton in the final practice session for Sunday’s inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix as the reigning champion endured an eventful hour.
The Red Bull of Verstappen leads the way in the standings, eight points clear of Hamilton with two races remaining, but this was the first time he had outpaced his Mercedes in a session in Jeddah.
Hamilton survived a near miss out on track before being summoned to the stewards’ office for almost causing a collision with Nikita Mazepin, as well as a separate incident for allegedly not respecting double-waved yellow flags.
— Red Bull Racing Honda (@redbullracing) December 4, 2021
Verstappen set a time of one minute 28.100 seconds, 0.214 secs faster than Hamilton in second place as the Brit aims for three successive wins with the title picture taking shape.
Hamilton has described the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, the fastest street track in Formula One, as “rapid”, with Verstappen saying it could be potentially “dangerous”.
Charles Leclerc certainly proved them both right, smashing his Ferrari into the barriers at 160mph in Friday’s second practice.
Everyone stayed out of the walls during final practice on Saturday, Hamilton locking up and going wide at one of the track’s rare run-off points.
He was also spiky on the team radio when Verstappen’s fastest time was relayed to him and his Mercedes was almost wiped out by the Haas of Mazepin, who was on a hot lap with Hamilton returning to the pits.
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) December 4, 2021
Verstappen can win the title this weekend and such close calls show just how small the margins for error are around a track that carries such speed and that runs so close to the barriers.
Sergio Perez was best of the rest in the sister Red Bull, with the AlphaTauri pair of Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly ahead of the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas down in sixth.
Leclerc came home seventh ahead of team-mate Carlos Sainz as Esteban Ocon and Lando Norris rounded off the top 10.