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Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas posted the fastest time over Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen in an eventful third and final practice for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, ahead of qualifying later Saturday.
Bottas was .095 quicker than Raikkonen and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was third quickest 0.416 behind with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo fourth best. Championship leader Sebastian Vettel drove his Ferrari cautiously and finished the difficult session a lowly 12th.
After a hectic two sessions on Friday, drivers were again severely tested on the 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) street circuit, which is volatile and unpredictable due to a combination of long straights, blistering track temperatures and hard-braking corners.
It was an improvement for Hamilton, after some difficulty on Friday. Still, toward the end of P3, the British driver seemed worried as he complained over the radio about his car. Then, toward the end, he almost clipped the barriers going through Turn 8 the most difficult on the track.
Track temperatures were even hotter than Friday and reached 56 degrees Celsius (133 Fahrenheit). Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, who was fastest in both sessions on Friday, was sixth quickest this time.
The 19-year-old Dutchman who crashed right at the end of P2 on Friday also complained of problems with his engine. With about 10 minutes left in P3, Verstappen’s car ground to a halt on the side of the track and he stood inspecting it for several moments.
Drivers were troubled with grip and balance issues throughout Friday, with Force India’s Sergio Perez and Renault’s Jolyon Palmer crashing on Turn 8. It proved to be demanding again on Saturday.
Just seven minutes into P3, Palmer’s engine caught fire, forcing him to go off the track with flames coming out of the back. Safety crew quickly put them out with extinguishers.
Palmer is under pressure to keep his seat with the British driver yet to score a point this season. Brazilian Felipe Massa had a scare as he also nearly crashed going through Turn 8, while Russian driver Daniil Kvyat, Canadian teen Lance Stroll and Frenchman Romain Grosjean all went off track.
Grosjean, who has criticized his Haas engineers throughout the season, again lost his temper over the radio. Track temperatures will be somewhat cooler when qualifying begins at 1700 local time, but tempers may not.