Monza, Italy: Sebastian Vettel kept Ferrari on top with a classic demonstration of speed in Saturday morning’s closely-fought third and final free practice at the Italian Grand Prix.
The four-time champion bounced back from a spell of subdued form to give the fans cause for optimism with a best lap in one minute and 20.294 seconds.
That kept him 0.032 seconds clear of Max Verstappen’s surging Red Bull with Valtteri Bottas third for Mercedes ahead of Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari.
Vettel gained from slipstreaming behind his Monegasque team-mate, a factor that made the difference in a busy session that saw Daniel Ricciardo take fifth ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the second Mercedes.
Nico Hulkenberg was seventh in the second Renault ahead of Red Bull new boy Alex Albon, Antonio Giovinazzi of Alfa Romeo and Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso.
After Friday’s rain, warm and dry conditions prevailed as the session began following a brief delay to remove a sausage kerb at the exit of Parabolica where Alex Peroni was sent spiraling airborne into fencing during the F3 race.
He was unhurt, but one week on from the death of French driver Anthoine Hubert after a Formula Two race crash at the Belgian Grand Prix it was another shocking image for the sport.
"If that was an F1 car, it would have been in the forest," said 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg on Sky Sports F1.
Once the action began, it was not long before the teams were practicing their slipstreaming, so important for fast laps at Monza, and pit-stops, having lost so much time on Friday.
The Ferraris were soon on top of the times, Leclerc edging ahead of Vettel while Mercedes, on mediums, took a more cautious and tactical approach.
Several drivers, including Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen and Alex Albon, had their lap-times deleted for running beyond track limits, notably at Parabolica.
The race stewards had announced on Friday that they were adopting a zero-tolerance approach – a policy that saw Albon relegated from third to seventh in the timings.
Using a tow from Bottas, Hamilton was up to third, three-tenths off Leclerc’s pace after 35 minutes, before Verstappen endorsed his belief that Red Bull’s new Honda engine was supplying significantly more power to go third himself before the final flurry.