Mercedes ended practice with a 1-2 with Valtteri Bottas leading Lewis Hamilton separated by under a tenth of a second.
Red Bull was a distant third with Max Verstappen who was still having issues with his DRS flapping at high speed.
Off-track, Red Bull boss Christian Horner has pointed accusations in the direction of Mercedes’ rear wing but the Red Bull version was the one causing mechanics to find quick fixes.
Mechanics spent parts of the session working on the rear of Verstappen’s car and the team admitted there were still issues but said the wing will be fixed in time for qualifying.
Here’s how final practice happened ahead of the 2021 Qatar GP.
Early on Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo traded times in Free Practice 1 for the first ever Qatar Grand Prix.
The Dutchman eventually asserted his supremacy with a 1min 24.998sec, with Norris just 0.2sec off him and Valtteri Bottas 0.016sec further off.
Times tumbled as the circuit gripped up and drivers got more used to their new surroundings, with Gasly continuing his impressive form with fourth-fastest time, albeit half a second slower than Verstappen.
Hamilton displaced the AlphaTauri driver with his first representative lap, but this was now 0.5sec off his title rival Verstappen, who improved to a 1min 24.855sec. Both the Mercedes and the Red Bull had set their respective times on the hard tyre.
George Russell struggled to chalk a competitive time initially, his 1min 27.557sec leaving him 2.7sec off the leading Red Bull.
Drivers explored the limits of the track and went into the runoff, with Turns 4, 12, 13, 14 and 16 all under scrutiny from the stewards this weekend.
Though the track was swept before the session, sand still billowed at the side of the circuit as drivers blasted past on the start/finish straight.
Bits of carbon fibre flew off as Fernando Alonso went wide over the ridges designed to deter drivers from going off, the Alpine man only able to go 14th-fastest with half the session gone, with Gasly doing similar but sending up a huge plume of dust as he did so.
On the same compound Sebastian Vettel put himself fourth with a 1min 25.328sec, but his team-mate Stroll wasn’t enjoying life, having to come into the pits with a hydraulic issue. The Canadian was out for the session.
Yuki Tsunoda went fastest on the soft tyres, but only briefly as Bottas bested him by 0.4sec with a 1min 24.194sec. Replays showed the Finn went well off track to set his time – it wasn’t deleted, with Michael Masi informing Red Bull’s sporting director that the stewards were letting drivers “find their feet”.
His team-mate Hamilton also sampled the softs to post a 1min 24.509sec but it was Verstappen who was getting the best out of them, going fastest again with a 1min 23.723sec.
With fifteen minutes to go, the Mercedes driver set a faster middle sector than the Red Bull driver, but then backed out of the lap after a snap of oversteer.
Hamilton was then brought in after being informed the team thought he might have a car issue – likely to be front wing damage from running wide – after commenting earlier that the car felt down on power.
Perez improved to sixth, 1.192sec slower than his team-mate after changing to the soft tyre.
McLaren mechanics rushed to fix Norris’s McLaren after he damaged some bodywork on the kerbs, managing to get him out with five minutes left.
Pierre Gasly jumped into second, four tenths behind Verstappen, whilst Norris improved to ninth, a second further back.
Hamilton went out in an attempt to find some pace, but was stymied after a yellow flag came out due to Mick Schumacher locking up and going into the gravel at Turn 7, the now-dusty Haas recovering back onto the track.
The session ended then with Verstappen top, enjoying a margin of nearly half a second over the nearest challenger Gasly.
After the multiple track limit breaches of the first session, officials decided to make the track wider, by defining the track limit as the purple and white kerbs, rather than the white line where the kerbs meet the asphalt.
The Mercedes began by tripping each other up: Hamilton blocking Bottas and forcing him to go wide.
Most cars started the session on medium tyres, but the Ferraris opted for hards, along with Norris, Räikkönen, Ocon, Gasly and Latifi.
Ten minutes in and it was the Honda-engined car you wouldn’t expect topping the table: Yuki Tsunoda with a 1min 24.233sec lap, five-hundredths ahead of Verstappen and Perez.
It wasn’t the pace of the Red Bull that was the talking point but Verstappen’s rear wing DRS flap that oscillated manically when open.
All of the cars had got at least five laps in by that time, with the exception of Nikita Mazepin, as mechanics worked on changing his chassis, which had been damaged by the kerbs in FP1.
Christian Horner has been explicit in giving his Red Bull team's view on the legality of Mercedes' F1 car, accusing the rival outfit of using flexi-wings
After seven laps, the medium tyres were finding their groove on the Mercedes; both cars topping the table, headed by Valtteri Bottas with a 1min 23.324sec.
At this point, most of the field returned to the pits, Sergio Perez calling for a helmet with a completely clear visor, apparently struggling to see under the lights at night.
As cars left again mostly for soft-tyred runs, Charles Leclerc was left behind, the engine cover of his Ferrari off as mechanics worked around the sidepod. The Red Bulls also remained in the pits, mechanics working on Verstappen’s rear wing.
Bottas improved marginally on his previous table-topping time, with a 1min 23.154sec lap, which was then deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 7. He still led the table, followed by Hamilton 0.2sec behind, with Lando Norris a further tenth back — the latter times set on soft tyres.
Carlos Sainz was the latest to send up a cloud of dust and sand as he ran over the trackside astroturf at Turn 10 while passing traffic. Verstappen — rear wing flap looking much more stable — followed him on the next lap.
Losail’s curving layout was causing problems for some drivers on fast laps. Sebastian Vettel found himself blocked by both Hamilton and Perez in sweeping sections, pointing to a potentially fraught qualifying. session
But Bottas continued to find clear tarmac, heading the times with 20min to go with a soft-tyred 1min 23.148sec lap, Pierre Gasly was second, 0.2sec behind and Hamilton a further 0.2sec back. Max Verstappen and Lando Norris were within a tenth of the third-placed Mercedes.
As the cars headed out on track for long run simulations at a slower pace, the Red Bulls were once again sat in the pits; Sergio Perez’s rear wing the subject of attention from mechanics. Both cars did emerge with around 10min to go.
Sainz again went wide at Turn 7 to dramatic effect, trailing a plume of sand along the astoturf and into the gravel trap.
Bottas also ran wide off track but ended his medium-tyred stint with impressive long-run pace, into the 1min 27s; his rivals clocking 1min 28sec laps.
The Finn’s fastest time remained at the top of the timesheet at the chequered flag, still ahead of Gasly, Verstappen, Hamilton and Norris, followed by Stroll and Tsunoda, 0.5sec back from Bottas, and Perez who was 0.6sec behind.
There were more track limits tweaks made to the race directors notes, times will now be deleted if drivers go beyond the kerbs at Turns 2, 7 and 16.
With all the focus on Mercedes’s rear wing, Red Bull were frantically working on Verstappen’s in the garage with a wall of mechanics blocking any view of the work going on to the DRS actuator.
Haas was on track right away with both cars as the lights went green but Nikita Mazepin didn’t make it onto the track without an issue. The Russian was told to stop the car just after crossing the white line at pit exit, and the session was immediately red-flagged.
Mazepin said that his engine didn’t sound right as he left the garage and the crew was on hand to push him back to the pit lane.
FP3 was back to green with 54mins remaining of the session.
There were only a few takers early on, Lando Norris, Esteban Ocon and Mick Schumacher logging laps but the Alpine driver was the first to post a time on the board with a 1min 24.864sec.
With 15mins gone, the track started to fill up with over half the field circulating. Bottas had the fastest time until Hamilton usurped him on softs to go into the 1min 23s.
Perez was slightly up on Hamilton’s effort until he skated wide at the penultimate corner to undo his work. His off necessitated a front wing change though his report of understeer might have been the reason there.
It was Fernando Alonso who went quickest next though, the Alpine driver set a 1min 23.904sec on medium tyres.
Gasly suffered a spin but continued on in the middle sector and reported no grip in the sunny conditions versus Friday’s running.
Bottas lowered the time to beat to a 1min 23.387sec after a cool down lap on the red-walled tyres while Verstappen finally made his way out of the garage for the first time with 34mins remaining of the session.
The Finn’s fastest time lasted just a minute before Hamiton went two-tenths quicker on his second effort. Verstappen then topped the times by just 0.031sec. The rear wing on the Red Bull was still oscilating though with DRS engaged.
Once again, Mercedes restored itself to the top with a 1min 22.655sec from Hamilton good enough for P1 until Bottas went quicker still with a 1min 22.573sec.
A second run from Verstappen wasn’t good enough to go within 0.4sec and he stayed P3 with his second flying lap. The Dutchman picked up front wing damage during the lap according to his race engineer. He was in for a new one and there was yet more work going on to the rear wing with Adrian Newey now involved with the investigation.
Norris was the next driver to run off the circuit at Turn 15 and bounce across the kerbs. The McLaren continued after a mid-corner snap of oversteer sent him wide. His old team-mate Carlos Sainz ran wide next and felt he sustained floor damage in the process with 15mins to go.
Ferrari team-mate Leclerc ran wide at Turn 2 exit and into the gravel. The Monégasque lost the rear of the car under acceleration but recovered to the track and continued.
Perez moved up to P3 with 12 minutes to go, 0.273sec down on Bottas’s top time. That was beaten by Hamilton, 0.185sec quicker on a 1min 22.388sec.
Gasly moved up to sixth to split the Ferraris with just under 10mins left on a set of old soft tyres. Alonso put in a time a few minutes later that tucked him in just behind the AlphaTauri to the tune of 0.050sec.
Bottas caught a slight tow out of the final corner from Kimi Räikkönen’s Alfa Romeo to go quickest once more, 0.078sec clear of the pack with the fastest final sector of the session.
Verstappen re-emerged from the garage with 6mins left of the final practice session on fresh soft tyres and the sun setting. His flying lap ended up 0.3sec down on the fastest from Bottas but he did suffer a twitch of oversteer at the first corner.