Lewis Hamilton has posted the fastest lap-time in final practice ahead of this afternoon’s qualifying session for the Australian Grand Prix. The McLaren driver just managed to edge out the session’s surprise late pace-setter, Romain Grosjean, by just 0.077 seconds with his final flying lap.
The session was also punctuated by separate spins for Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher, who both committed unusual driving errors and slid into the kitty litter to end their sessions.
Conditions were bright and sunny as the circuit opened for business at 2:00pm local time, with forecasters predicting that the weather would remain rain-free for the rest of the day.
Given how rain-affected yesterday’s two practice sessions had been, the teams needed to be clever with the amount of mileage they ran this afternoon; needing to both determine set-up requirements for race and qualifying conditions.
Nico Rosberg was out quickly and set the early benchmark, which took his rivals some time to match and then beat. Elsewhere, the Sauber and Force India drivers ran brief simulations on harder tyres and with higher fuel loads – they posted lap-times in the low 1m32s range, in comparison to Rosberg’s 1:26s times.
Michael Schumacher would be the first to post a serious challenge, with the German showing good pace on both the soft and medium compound Pirellis – giving Mercedes’ rivals cause for concern and no doubt ready to lodge protests over the team’s innovative rear wing design, believed to give the W03 some serious straightline speed.
Track conditions were still slippery, and his was evidenced by some off-track moments for Heikki Kovalainen and Kamui Kobayashi at Turn 1, while Felipe Massa and Bruno Senna had half-spins at Turn 15.
The first moment of excitement came for Sebastian Vettel, who fractionally dropped two wheels onto the grass as he braked at Turn 6, sliding off backwards into the gravel as his Red Bull swapped ends. His best lap-time – a 1:26.211 – was still good enough for seventh-fastest, and it was posted on the medium-compound tyres.
Shortly after, Schumacher’s pace-setting effort came to an end when he had a spin into the Turn 9 gravel. Replays showed the car suddenly swap ends as he braked for the corner, and his session was also over.
The final few minutes proved action-packed, with Romain Grosjean taking Lotus to the top of the timesheets with a rapid 1:25.758, which was eventually bettered by Hamilton in the last two minutes of the session.
Mark Webber finished up third-fastest, ahead of Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg, Schumacher, Vettel, Pastor Maldonado, Sergio Pérez and Daniel Ricciardo.
Kimi Räikkönen finished the session twelfth-fastest, just over a second slower than Hamilton’s session-topping pace.
There will be plenty of head-scratching at Ferrari, with the Italian team’s F2012 cars appearing to be very badly handling. Despite being fitted with the soft Pirelli tyres, they were miles off the pace, confirming the worst fears of team insiders and supporters.
It looks as though the red cars could be jostling with Caterham for the ‘Q1 ‘drop zone’ in this afternoon’s qualifying session, with the green cars closer to the lower reachers of the midfield, without quite having the pace yet to challenge there regularly.
Not surprisingly, Marussia and HRT brought up the rear. Both Timo Glock and Charles Pic were able to clock times within 107% of Hamilton’s best, which could give them hope for making qualifying, but HRT will need the dispensation of the stewards to make the grid for tomorrow’s race, with Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan well off the pace, but perhaps quicker than many had actually expected…
2012 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Free Practice 3 Session Times:
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||1:25.681||18|
|2.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault E20||1:25.758||+ 0.077||21|
|3.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||1:25.900||+ 0.219||20|
|4..||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||1:25.906||+ 0.225||17|
|5.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||1:25.929||+ 0.248||23|
|6.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||1:26.078||+ 0.397||14|
|7.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||1:26.211||+ 0.530||12|
|8.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault FW34||1:26.470||+ 0.789||17|
|9.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari C31||1:26.632||+ 0.951||17|
|10.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||1:26.723||+ 1.042||20|
|11.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||1:26.733||+ 1.052||17|
|12.||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus F1 Renault E20||1:26.737||+ 1.056||15|
|13.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C31||1:26.755||+ 1.074||19|
|14.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes VJM05||1:27.029||+ 1.348||23|
|15.||Bruno Senna||Williams Renault FW34||1:27.119||+ 1.438||20|
|16.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||1:27.323||+ 1.642||19|
|17.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM05||1:27.428||+ 1.174||22|
|18.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||1:28.023||+ 2.342||19|
|19.||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham Renault CT01||1:28.341||+ 2.660||19|
|20.||Vitaly Petrov||Caterham Renault CT01||1:28.702||+ 3.021||11|
|21.||Timo Glock||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||1:30.728||+ 5.047||13|
|22.||Charles Pic||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||1:31.225||+ 5.544||14|
|23.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||1:33.114||+ 7.433||12|
|24.||Pedro de la Rosa||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||1:33.261||+ 7.580||13|
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