Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen has set the pace ahead of the qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix. Photo: The Canadian Press via AP

MONTREAL Max Verstappen completed an impressive clean sweep on Saturday morning when he topped the times in the third and final free practice ahead of Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix.

The under-fire Dutchman, who had threatened to butt his inquisitors during an impetuous outburst at a news conference on Thursday, wound up fastest in all three sessions that followed. He was quickest in final practice with a best lap of one minute and 11.599 seconds, outpacing nearest rival four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari by 0.049 seconds.

Vettel’s Ferrari team-mate Finn Kimi Raikkonen was third, just 0.051 seconds adrift of the pace, ahead of championship leader and defending four-time champion Briton Lewis Hamilton who was one-tenth down for Mercedes. The top four were separated by just one-tenth of a second with Verstappen's Red Bull team-mate Australian Daniel Ricciardo fifth after a troubled morning ahead of Finn Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes.

Verstappen's performance was a grim-faced response to the criticism he had faced after being involved in six incidents in the opening six races, a sequence that led to him being quizzed about his form by reporters. Newly-wed Mexican Sergio Perez was seventh for Force India ahead of German Nico Hulkenberg of Renault, Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Haas and Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne for McLaren.

The session was the first in which the Mercedes team, the only one of the leading trio not to be using a new upgraded engine, used the "hyper-soft" tyres and they struggled to manage the extra-grippy rubber.

"We have got the pace in the car to challenge for pole, but we are not really getting the best out of the hyper-softs," said Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff.

Mercedes chose to bring only five sets of the fast and slick hyper-softs compared to rival teams with eight, a tactical move that may hand the initiative to Red Bull or Ferrari. 


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