The world champion and series leader clocked a best lap in one minute and 27.901 seconds to ease four-tenths clear of the Mexican as the local Milton Keynes-based team made clear their intentions for a seventh consecutive victory.
The 24-year-old Dutchman looked composed and confident in his 18 laps as the dominant Red Bulls set the pace ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and the two much-improved Mercedes.
Leclerc was very close to Perez ahead of Russell and a revived Lewis Hamilton, the seven-time world champion delighting his vast army of fans in a big Saturday crowd at the former wartime airfield with a series of quick laps.
Carlos Sainz, still hunting his first win for Ferrari, was pushed back to sixth ahead of another Briton Lando Norris of McLaren, Valtteri Bottas of Alfa Romeo and Mick Schumacher, showing improved form in his Haas.
Two-time champion Fernando Alonso was 10th for Alpine in a largely incident-free session in changeable conditions.
On a breezy and cool day, with rain threatening, Verstappen was slow to join the fray, but went top of the times immediately on his first timed lap.
After a frustrating day on Friday, when he felt his car was not in an optimum set-up, Verstappen’s crew had made overnight changes to improve the performance and it paid off as he showed his true pace.
Until he delivered his opening lap, to move three-tenths of a second clear of the field, Ferrari’s Leclerc and Sainz had led the way though the Spaniard complained of handling problems.
“The problems from yesterday in high speed are not better,” he said on team radio. By contrast, as if to prove how much progress Mercedes had made with their upgrades package, Russell reported “no bouncing”.
His team-mate Hamilton was also showing true competitive pace and jumped to second midway through the session, only two-tenths off the champion’s pace.
Alive to the competition, Verstappen soon improved to 1:28.386 only for Hamilton to respond to within 0.102 seconds, lifting him clear of both Ferraris and confirming his potential to fight at the front this weekend.
With 15 minutes remaining, Russell showed he, too, had pace by taking third before Leclerc and then Perez responded in the closing minutes.
By then, Hamilton was reporting “the rear is bouncing a lot” and was outpaced by Russell who took fourth before the final flurry.
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