Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen set the fastest time of final practice for the Mexican Grand Prix, finishing nine hundredths of a second ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, with Daniel Ricciardo third in the second Red Bull.
In a messy final 10 minutes of the session traffic disrupted the qualifying simulations of a number of drivers but Verstappen found space enough to set a supersoft tyre time of 1:19.137 with eight minutes left on the clock.
Ricciardo might have eclipsed that but the Australian hit heavy traffic in the final two turns and his lap was compromised. It was still good enough to send him into P2 and he then improved again to sit 0.238 behind his team-mate.
However, after complaining that he had been hampered by heavy traffic, Hamilton then found enough space to jump ahead of Ricciardo with a time of 1:19.231. The defending champion had a slow first sector but then found time in the middle part of the track before setting a session-best S3 time close to 0.094 behind Verstappen.
Although Hamilton might have had the upper hand on a clear track, Red Bull’s performance in the session was a significant improvement from yesterday when both the team’s drivers struggled to find a direction on set-up and during which Verstappen was sidelined in FP1 with brake issues.
In final practice Verstappen finished 0.8s ahead of the quickest Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, though the sixth-placed German too struggled with traffic in the closing stages of the session and did not get in a clean lap. Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was seventh fastest, just shy of six hundredths of a second behind his team-mate.
Championship leader Nico Rosberg was fourth for Mercedes, though the German looked out of sorts for much of the session. On soft tyres in the earlier part of the session he was fifth quickest behind Hamilton, the Red Bulls and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. In the final part of the session Rosberg finished 0.481 behind Verstappen but perhaps more importantly he was 0.387 adrift of title rival Hamilton.
Fifth place in the session went to Valterri Bottas. In the first two practice sessions Williams had again be outpaced by Force India, the team’s close rival for fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship. However, in final practice Bottas finished 0.444s clear of the highest-placed Force India of Nico Hulkenberg who finished ninth. Felipe Massa in the second Williams was eighth quickest. With Hulkenberg ninth, the final top 10 place went to Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, with local hero Sergio Perez in P11, two tenths off the pace of Force India team-mate Hulkenberg.