Max Verstappen staked his claim for pole position at Barcelona in Saturday’s FP3, the Red Bull driver clocking in fastest in the final practice session with a 0.235s margin over Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

Strong performances from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz allowed the duo to complete the top four while Valtteri Bottas was fifth, 0.588s behind the session’s pace setter.

    2021 Spanish Grand Prix Free Practice 3 – Results

Saturday dawned predictably warm and sunny in Barcelona, offering teams the perfect conditions in which to refine their performance ahead of this afternoon’s qualifying.

The talk at the end of Friday’s FP2 was centered on Max Verstappen’s lowly P9 in the session. But many were quick to point out that the Dutchman had set his time on the medium tyre rather than on the soft rubber like his rivals, implying that his effort was likely not representative of Red Bull’s true potential.

F1 veteran Fernando Alonso, a man who knows by heart every crack and undulation of Barcelona’s tarmac, was the first driver to take to the track.

As the track gradually populated, fastest laps changed hands, with Charles Leclerc setting the first significant benchmark on the soft tyre in 1m18.882s, with teammate Carlos Sainz in tow, just 0.167s behind.

But 20 minutes into the session, both Scuderia drivers were overhauled by Mercedes’ soft-shod Black Arrows, with Hamilton edging Bottas by 0.119s with a 1m18.304s.

Meanwhile, Verstappen – still running on the mediums – improved to P3, but 0.513s behind Hamilton who lowered his best to 1m18.117s.

As the session entered its final 20 minutes, qualifying simulations were in order in the Ferrari camp, which led to Leclerc and Sainz moving up to P2 and P3.

As everyone started to dial in more speed, a switch to the soft tyre allowed Verstappen to snatch P1 thanks to a lap in 1m17.835 that edged Hamilton by 0.235s. The Dutchman’s effort was visibly an indication that things were set to get serious, foretelling a titanic Saturday afternoon shootout.

Behind F1’s dueling duo, Leclerc and Sainz’s performance augured well for qualifying while Bottas and Norris rounded off the top ten.

AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was seventh, followed by the improving Daniel Ricciardo, a feisty Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez who closed out the top-ten.

As a reminder, 90 percent of the wins recorded at the Circuit de Catalunya have been achieved by drivers starting on the front, a stat that puts an overwhelming emphasis on qualifying.

Bring it on!

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