Leclerc went quickest at the very end of the final hour of practice with a 1m29.735s on soft tyres during the qualifying simulations to end up just 0.033s clear of reigning F1 world champion Max Verstappen.

Verstappen had led the way at the top of the timesheets for much of FP3 and would have gone even faster without wild moment over the kerbs at Turn 20, which forced the Red Bull driver to abort his flying lap when he was three-and-a-half tenths up on his best time. 

Sergio Perez was just 0.098s down in third place in the second Red Bull, ahead of Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari and Valtteri Bottas, who once again impressed to put his Alfa Romeo fifth, just 0.295s down. 

Mercedes’ problems continued as Lewis Hamilton could only set a time good enough for 11th, nearly a full second off Leclerc, while teammate George Russell was a lowly 14th, a further three-tenths back. 

The reigning world champions are still trying to get to the bottom of the porpoising issue and straight-line speed deficit that has so far prevented Hamilton and Russell from extracting the true potential of the W13. 

Mercedes carried out several experiments with different wing configurations throughout Friday practice but came no closer to finding a solution, leaving it as the seventh-best team in FP3 and in a worrying place heading into qualifying. 

Esteban Ocon took sixth for Alpine, ahead of Pierre Gasly, whose AlphaTauri ground to a halt with a suspected driveshaft issue as he exited the pit lane. 

Kevin Magnussen, Fernando Alonso and Yuki Tsunoda completed the rest of the top-10 order for Haas, Alpine and AlphaTauri, leaving seven-time world champion Hamilton three-tenths shy of what will become the Q3 positions in qualifying. 

Qualifying for the 2022 F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix takes place at 5pm GMT.