George Russell edged Lando Norris in the final practice session of the F1 season in which three-time champion Max Verstappen struggled.
Russell posted a leading time of one minute 24.418secs in his Mercedes, 0.095s clear of McLaren's Lando Norris. Verstappen, meanwhile, had to settle for a lap 0.735s adrift as Red Bull was still unable to find the optimum setup with the RB19.
The heavily disrupted second practice session added more importance to FP3, certainly for the 10 drivers, in particular, who sat out FP1 as a number of rookies were given an opportunity, despite the stark difference in conditions.
A total of 34 minutes were lost in the second session following crashes for Ferrari's Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg in his Haas, comprising running when the conditions were at their optimum, with the sun setting and running into the early night.
For FP3, the air temperature was 29 degrees Celsius, and the track at 43 but it was still vital for all 20 drivers to at least find the right setup and balance.
Verstappen, especially, had moaned after FP2 that the “balance was very off” with his RB19 struggling with “a lot of understeer, a lot of jumping”.
After posting his first hot lap of FP3 15 minutes into the session, with the three-time champion half-a-second off the leading pace set by Russell at that stage, Verstappen declared his car had “quite a loose rear”, and was “sliding a lot”.
It was Russell's Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton who had set the initial time, starting on the soft Pirelli tyres with a lap of 1:26.612s, 1.8s behind Charles Leclerc's benchmark in his Ferrari from FP2.
Sainz quickly edged Hamilton by 0.003s on medium tyres before Sergio Perez posted a more representative time of 1:25.417s.
On his opening fast lap, Russell finished a quarter-of-a-second quicker than the Mexican before a second tour after a cool-down lap lowered his own time to 1:24.829s.
With 20 minutes remaining, and before the low-fuel runs kicked in, Russell was 0.529s up on Verstappen, with Oscar Piastri in his McLaren just 0.037s behind the Dutch driver.
Logan Sargeant was the first driver to push the envelope on low fuel, slotting into fourth on the timesheet with a lap of 1:25.205s, 0.376s adrift of Russell before Williams team-mate Alex Albon went second fastest, exactly a second behind Russell.
The Briton, though, soon extended his margin back to over half a second with his opening qualifying simulation with 15 minutes remaining, a time that was never headed.
With McLaren expected to be in contention this weekend, Norris posted a 1:24.513s, 0.095s down. Arguably, the Briton could have edged Russell but for a lairy moment through the final corner as he fought to keep control of his MCL60.
Team-mate Oscar Piastri finished third quickest, 0.392s down on Russell.
As for Verstappen, despite making additional setup changes, on his first flying lap, he was two-tenths of a second slower through the first sector before sliding out of the hairpin and opting to abort his run.
Complaining over the radio again, an exasperated Verstappen said: “The car is again bottoming, jumping. I don't know what is going on.”
On his second quali sim run, Verstappen was slow through the final sector, leading to him finishing sixth on the timesheet, and over seven-tenths back, with Albon and Leclerc also quicker.
Bizarrely, Hamilton was worse off than Verstappen, with the seven-time champion down in a lowly 12th, almost nine-tenths of a second behind Russell.
In between Verstappen and Hamilton sat Alpine's Esteban Ocon, followed by Sargeant, AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda, Zhou Guanyu in his Alfa Romeo, and Perez, the latter 0.841s down.
Daniel Ricciardo, who said after second practice that he had a top-10 car for qualifying, offered little to suggest that was the case as he was down in 18th, 1.179s behind.
Sainz finished slowest after conducting most of the session on the medium tyres before sliding wide at the hairpin on his one hot lap on low fuel.