Charles Leclerc held the top spot in final practice ahead of Max Verstappen at the Australian Grand Prix.

Leclerc set the fastest time of the weekend so far on the overcast and cool early Melbourne afternoon, lowering the benchmark to 1m16.714s with a last-gasp lap after the checkered flag.

It was his second run on a set of the soft tires, which have proved difficult to master for most drivers at Albert Park.

The tires in use this weekend are the softest in the Pirelli range and one step softer than those used last year following complaints the tire supplier had been too conservative in 2023.

Verstappen notably struggled to get to grips with Pirelli’s softest compound, complaining late in the session that the rubber was moving around too much in the high-speed corners relative to the medium tire. It took him two cool-down laps and a late blast on a very used set of softs to string together a lap without suffering overheating, putting him just 0.02s behind Leclerc.

Sainz, who is still recovering from his appendectomy undertaken two weeks ago, had held top spot until the final flurry of laps but ended up third and 0.077s shy of his leading teammate.

Mercedes was much improved on Saturday morning after a night of analysis at the factory in Brackley. Lewis Hamilton in particular looked much happier in his W15, running 0.092s off the pace after what he described as his worst Friday of the year and despite early concerns about straight-line speed in the opening runs of the session.

Russell followed 0.08s further back in the sister car.

Fernando Alonso led Sergio Perez in sixth and seventh ahead of Oscar Piastri, the home favorite perpetually troubling the top of the time sheet after he “ being an idiot in turn 1,” allowing him to match the leaders in the first sector.

Lance Stroll led home Lando Norris in ninth and 10th, both more than 0.3s slower than their teammates.

Yuki Tsunoda led home a tight bottom half of the field separated by just 0.29s from 11th to 18th.

Valtteri Bottas followed in 12th ahead of Alex Albon, who was driving Logan Sargeant’s surrendered chassis after an overnight switch between teammates to keep the Thai driver in the grand prix.

Zhou Guanyu was 14th ahead of Esteban Ocon, Nico Hulkenberg, Kevin Magnussen and Daniel Ricciardo.

Pierre Gasly completed the order in 19th at 1.676s off the pace.

Sargeant is no longer taking part in the grand prix after the Williams team used his chassis to replace teammate Albon’s crashed one, having not manufactured a spare tub in time to ship to Melbourne.