FP3: Raikkonen keeps the Red Bulls at bay
Half a second. That was Kimi Raikkonen’s advantage at the head of the field as he proved untouchable in Saturday’s final practice in Bahrain. And as Mercedes struggled, it was the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo that were Ferrari’s biggest threat.
It was not all good news for the Scuderia, however. Sebastian Vettel was hampered by loose bodywork early in the hour, and then ended his session early complaining of “engine driveability” issues.
The result was P5, eight-tenths down on Raikkonen – though that was still enough to split the two Mercedes, with both Lewis Hamilton, fourth, and Valtteri Bottas, sixth, struggling to extract grip and pace from their supersoft tyres. And don’t forget Hamilton also has a five-place grid penalty to contend with.
Renault were best of the race, with Nico Hulkenberg heading team mate Carlos Sainz in seventh and eighth respectively. Next up was Pierre Gasly, in what was an impressive session for Toro Rosso – team mate Brendon Hartley, now also running the Italian squad’s updated aero package, was 11th behind the McLaren of Fernando Alonso.
With the afternoon heat not entirely representative of the cooler conditions the teams will face in qualifying later, it was a predictably quiet start to proceedings, with Sainz the first man to post a time after 18 minutes.
By the halfway mark Mercedes had a clear advantage, but then Ferrari showed their hand. First Vettel, his flapping bodywork repaired, went top on old tyres. Then Raikkonen blitzed it to go eight-tenths clear of his team mate.
Thereafter, much as Hamilton and Mercedes tried, there was to be no catching the Flying Finn. And just to emphasise the challenge that may face the Silver Arrows in qualifying, both Red Bulls moved ahead of them in the closing minutes – though not before Verstappen and Raikkonen had a close call as the latter exited the pits.
The question now is just how much difference the lower temperatures will make in a couple of hours’ time when the real fight for pole commences. ‘Quite a lot’ will be Mercedes’ hope…