Red Bull Racing has fired a warning shot to any its rivals who believe they might be in with a shot at challenging the defending Constructors’ Champions for victory this weekend – on the basis of the team’s pace in final practice, they haven’t got a hope in hell.
Current champion Sebastian Vettel produced a stunning lap to smash through the 1m25s barrier, finishing on top at the end of the session by over eight-tenths of a second faster than team-mate Mark Webber, and a full second quicker than McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton in third place.
The German’s ultra-quick lap was posted during a qualifying-style simulation where the used a combination of soft Pirelli tyres plus the full range of KERS use and his adjustable rear wing to post a blistering lap that was mere tenths off Michael Schumacher’s lap record at the track, which has stood for over seven years.
Today’s 60-minute session is the last opportunity teams have to iron out any bugs before they head into qualifying at 5:00pm local time.
And some reliability issues crept in to some teams’ radars today, with Sergio Pérez stopping his Sauber mid-session and Rubens Barrichello losing much of the session when he stopped with a gearbox leak after just five laps running.
It was a bad session for Williams all round, as just minutes before Rubens’ departure, Pastor Maldonado lost it under braking at Turn 6 and slide into the gravel, beaching his FW33.
Several other drivers had off-track moments, with the Turn 3 gravel trap and the Turns 11 and 12 sweepers’ run-off getting a work-out. These moments didn’t seem to harm the likes of Jenson Button and Vitaly Petrov, who finished fourth- and fifth-quickest despite their own wild moments during the session.
Nick Heidfeld, who finished ninth-fastest today, suffered a repeat of the same failure he experienced in Friday’s second practice, when a turning vane decided to part company with his R31 – seemingly as a result of the vibrations from him running over the exit kerbs.
Felipe Massa was another to suffer from a sudden loss of a car part, although his was rather more spectacular: the roll hoop holding his FOM onboard camera broke!
Cruelly – but not surprisingly, it must be said – for a team that has had so little track mileage, Hispania Racing was bound to encounter some bugs given it hasn’t even properly shaken down its new F111. And so it befell Vitantonio Liuzzi, who had to pull his car off-circuit on his out-lap, reporting a loss of drive.
At least the team was able to get the second of its F111 chassis built up for Liuzzi’s team-mate Narain Karthikeyan, who finally managed to get out on track with just a few minutes to run. With absolutely no set-up direction, the Indian was miles slower than anyone else and – while frankly, being a rather irritating roadblock for much faster cars – managed a best time over 17 seconds slower than Vettel’s fastest lap of the session.
With HRT seemingly destined not to make the grid for Sunday’s race, the overnight talking point has been the disappearance of pace shown by Virgin’s MVR-02, which has left us to speculate that the team may have been running underweight in pre-season testing.
At least in this session, the team lapped much closer to the pace of main rivals Team Lotus, although the fastest lap time posted by Jérôme d’Ambrosio was still outside of the 107% cut-off (a time of 1:30.422, assuming this was a qualifying session).
Dramas aside, conditions for the final practice session were overcast in the early afternoon, although the clouds which had threatened to deposit their contents on the track remained content for now. Ambient and track temperatures reached respective highs of 18 and 22°C (64 and 72°F).
At the pointy end of the field, the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button finished third- and fourth-fastest in this session, which bodes well for their continued recovery after an uncompetitive pre-season of testing. The pair – who finished on top of the timesheets in the second practice session – was split by just one-hundredth of a second.
Fernando Alonso finished sixth-fastest behind surprise package Petrov, some 1.6 seconds off Vettel’s best effort after an untidy lap when attempting a soft tyre run. With Felipe Massa in 12th place and with neither car having improved on their best times yesterday, this either means the team went backwards on set-up or that it could be sandbagging…
Kamui Kobayashi finished an impressive seventh-fastest in his Sauber, followed by Nico Rosberg, Nick Heidfeld and Michael Schumacher to complete the top-ten.
Sébastien Buemi lapped his Toro Rosso in the top-ten for much of the session until he was bumped to eleventh in its closing seconds, while his team-mate Jaime Alguersuari finished thirteenth-quickest and only five-hundredths of a second slower than his Swiss driving partner.
The Force India drivers finished 14th- and 15th-fastest, with Paul di Resta again out-pacing his more-experienced team-mate Adrian Sutil, albeit by mere fractions.
The three-stage qualifying session begins at 5:00pm local time.
2011 Australian Grand Prix – Free Practice 3 Session Times:
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Renault RB7||1:24.507||15|
|2.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Renault RB7||+ 0.857||14|
|3.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||+ 1.046||15|
|4.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||+ 1.060||16|
|5.||Vitaly Petrov||Renault R31||+ 1.399||18|
|6.||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari F150° Italia||+ 1.614||16|
|7.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C30||+ 1.910||17|
|8.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes GP W02||+ 2.013||17|
|9.||Nick Heidfeld||Renault R31||+ 2.239||17|
|10.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes GP W02||+ 2.349||15|
|11.||Sébastien Buemi||Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6||+ 2.501||17|
|12.||Felipe Massa||Ferrari F150° Italia||+ 2.504||15|
|13.||Jaime Alguersuari||Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6||+ 2.559||14|
|14.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM04||+ 2.580||15|
|15.||Adrian Sutil||Force India Mercedes VJM04||+ 2.673||15|
|16.||Rubens Barrichello||Williams Cosworth FW33||+ 3.561||7|
|17.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari C30||+ 3.570||9|
|18.||Heikki Kovalainen||Lotus Renault T128||+ 5.265||17|
|19.||Jarno Trulli||Lotus Renault T128||+ 5.496||18|
|20.||Timo Glock||Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02||+ 5.754||15|
|21.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Cosworth FW33||+ 5.989||5|
|22.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02||+ 6.197||18|
|23.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRT F1 Cosworth F111||+ 17.047||5|
|24.||Vitantonio Liuzzi||HRT F1 Cosworth F111||no time||1|