It appears to be game on in Singapore between Mercedes and Red Bull, if the final results of FP3 are anything to go by, as Nico Rosberg topped the timing screens but Max Verstappen ran him very close.
Mercedes drivers finally bolted on a set of Pirelli ultra-soft tyres which resulted in Rosberg’s best lap of 1:44.352, but Verstappen – using Renault’s sole upgraded engine this weekend – was impressive and only six hundreths of a second adrift of the top time.
Behind the pacesetters Kimi Raikkonen was third fastest but half a second down on the top time, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo fourth and Sebastian Vettel fifth.
Nico Hulkenberg continued to show good form in the Force India, around Marina Bay, and ended sixth fastest ahead of the Toro Rosso pair with Daniil Kvyat seventh and Carlos Sainz ninth – the Red Bull junior team also showing notable pace around the tricky street circuit.
World championship leader Lewis Hamilton botched his hot lap – locking up and going straight in Turn 7 – ending the one hour session eighth on the timing sheets, 1.5 seconds down on his Mercedes teammate and title rival.
Valterri Bottas rounded out the top ten in the Williams who have had a low key couple of days in Singapore. Felipe Massa was down in 14th.
Despite the strong showing of their teenager, Red Bull team chief Christian Horner was skeptical, and afterwards told BBC, “We know [Mercedes] always have a bit up their sleeve when they turn things up for qually, but it was a pretty decent session.”
“Daniel lost a bit of time behind Ocon so his time wasn’t representative. We didn’t see Lewis’ true pace and Nico probably has a couple of tenths in there. We will see what happens,” he added.
Nevertheless the optimists among us are expecting a duel for that all important top spot start.
Singapore Grand Prix, Marina Bay Circuit – Friday, Free Practice 3