Lewis Hamilton continued to set the pace in Abu Dhabi
Lewis Hamilton continued to set the pace in Abu Dhabi Image Credit: AFP

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton kept his nose in front of Formula One title rival Max Verstappen in the third and final practice ahead of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with the fastest lap at Yas Marina Circuit.

The Briton, who is going for a record eighth world championship, shaded the Dutch Red Bull driver by 0.214 seconds.

With not a single point separating the duo, Hamilton stormed around the revised 5.2km Yas Marina track in one minute, 23.274 seconds to stamp his claim as favourite for what could be a vital pole position in Saturday evening’s qualifying.

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, in his final race weekend for Mercedes before moving to Alfa Romeo next year, was third — 0.751 seconds behind.

Verstappen edged the first practice session on Friday but struggled for speed as the sun went down for the second session. He had more woes on Saturday afternoon as his pit crew had to carry out work on to fix a rear wing problem — something Red Bull chief Christian Horner called a “reliability issue.”

Hamilton was blistering in the cooler temperatures on Friday evening and he came flying out of the blocks on Saturday, laying down an early marker and setting impressive times to stay at the top.

Both drivers know all the need to do is finish ahead of their rival to claim the title, but as Verstappen is ahead 9-8 on race wins this season, he will take the glory if both drivers finish outside the points, or fail to finish altogether — a real possibility given their close calls so far this season in some no-quarter-given racing. They have already collided three times this season.

The FIA made a pre-emptive move, warning of severe consequences — points deductions or even disqualification — for ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour’.

Further down the time sheets on Saturday, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was fourth, ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris.

AlphaTauri pair Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and Charles Leclerc in the other Ferrari completed the top 10.