Valtteri Bottas edged team-mate Lewis Hamilton by four hundredths of a second to take top spot in final practice for the French Grand Prix, as Mercedes once again dominated the timesheets at the Circuit Paul Ricard.
Bottas went quickest in the first half of the session using soft tyres. The Finn set a best time of 1:30.853 to lead Hamilton by two tenths of a second before the pair retreated to the Mercedes garage to prepare for their qualifying simulations.
And when they bolted on a fresh set of soft tyres it was again Bottas who held sway. First across the line, the Finn carved seven tenths of a second off his first-half best to establish a new benchmark of 1:30.159.
Hamilton’s first attempt was compromised by a brief loss of control in Turn 6 but on his second attempt he set the best time to that point in the second sector. He lost out in the final corners, however, and was forced to settle for second place, just 0.041s behind his team-mate.
The Mercedes drivers ended the session well clear of their rivals. Charles Leclerc got closest but the Ferrari driver still ended the session more than four tenths adrift of the seemingly unbeatable Mercedes. The Monegasque was followed by team-mate Sebastian Vettel who was just under three hundredths of a second slower in the second Ferrari.
In a two by two top six, a provisional row three went to Red Bull Racing, with Max Verstappen finishing six hundredths of a second ahead of team-mate Pierre Gasly.
Local favourite Gasly appeared to struggle in the opening part of the session, but he made a significant step forward in the qualifying simulations, immediately closing the gap to Verstappen as the Dutchman complained of a lack of grip. Both Red Bulls were approximately 1.4s off the pace set by Bottas, however.
That pace deficit brought the threat from behind closer, with McLaren pushing the Red Bulls hard in the session.
The Renault-powered team have made a strong start to the weekend, with Lando Norris fifth in FP2. And the rookie was again in good from in final practice.
Norris’ qualifying simulation yielded a time of 1:31.654, just five hundredths of a second behind Gasly. Team-mate Carlos Sainz took ninth place in the session, as Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo split the McLarens with a time of 1:31.802, 0.148 behind Norris and 0.085 ahead of Sainz in what looks set to a ferocious qualifying battle for the lower half of the top 10 grid positions.
Kimi Raikkonen took P10 for Alfa Romeo Racing, ahead of the second Renault of Nico Hulkenberg and Antonio Giovinazzi in the second Alfa.
2019 FIA Formula One French Grand Prix – Free Practice 3
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 18 1:30.159
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 15 1:30.200 0.041
3 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 15 1:30.605 0.446
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 13 1:30.633 0.474
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 11 1:31.538 1.379
6 Pierre Gasly Red Bull Racing 14 1:31.599 1.440
7 Lando Norris McLaren 14 1:31.654 1.495
8 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 12 1:31.802 1.643
9 Carlos Sainz McLaren 14 1:31.887 1.728
10 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 16 1:31.943
11 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 15 1:32.023 1.864
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo 15 1:32.171 2.012
13 Alex Albon Scuderia Toro Rosso 16 1:32.178 2.019
14 Romain Grosjean Haas 15 1:32.385 2.226
15 Kevin Magnussen Haas 13 1:32.400 2.241
16 Sergio Perez Racing Point 15 1:32.491 2.332
17 Daniil Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso 22 1:32.540 2.381
18 Lance Stroll Racing Point 14 1:32.678 2.519
19 Robert Kubica Williams 21 1:33.902 3.743
20 George Russell Williams 4 1:39.987 9.828