SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) - Valtteri Bottas was fastest ahead of Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton before hitting the barriers in Saturday’s final practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix.
The Finn, carrying a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change, set the pace with a one minute 29.055 seconds lap to edge out world championship leader Hamilton by 0.014 seconds.
Bottas was then sidelined a little over 20 minutes into the hour-long session when he hit the barriers while exiting the high-speed ‘Spoon’ left hander, damaging the right rear corner of his car.
He made it back to the pits but officials threw out the red flag to allow marshals to clear debris left on track.
Sebastian Vettel, who ended Friday’s practice on top of the timesheets for Ferrari, was third fastest.
The German, who trails Hamilton by 34 points in the standings with five races to go, was 0.324 seconds down on Bottas’ mark despite lapping on the stickier super-soft tyre compared to the less grippy softs Bottas and Hamilton set their fastest laps on.
The four-time champion’s Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen brought out the second red flag of the session. The Finn crashed into the barriers at the right-handed ‘Degner’ pair ofcorners only minutes after the session had restarted following his compatriot’s mishap.
Max Verstappen, winner last week in Malaysia, was fourth-quickest ahead of Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo.
Fernando Alonso, who will start from the back of the grid after picking up a 35-place penalty when the team’s mechanics fitted his car with a fresh power unit late on Friday, was eighth fastest.
Times usually tend to tumble in the final practice session as teams limber up for qualifying but Bottas’ mark stood despite being set relatively early in the session.
This could indicate teams put more focus on long-run race simulations to make up for track time lost in Friday’s rain-delayed afternoon practice.
Editing by Peter Rutherford