Lewis Hamilton edged out his rivals in FP3 at the Australian Grand Pri

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:

Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1. Lewis Hamilton GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-27 1:25.681   18
2. Romain Grosjean FRA Lotus F1 Renault E20 1:25.758 + 0.077 21
3. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Racing Renault RB8 1:25.900 + 0.219 20
4.. Jenson Button GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-27 1:25.906 + 0.225 17
5. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes AMG F1 W03 1:25.929 + 0.248 23
6. Michael Schumacher DEU Mercedes AMG F1 W03 1:26.078 + 0.397 14
7. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Racing Renault RB8 1:26.211 + 0.530 12
8. Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams Renault FW34 1:26.470 + 0.789 17
9. Sergio Pérez MEX Sauber Ferrari C31 1:26.632 + 0.951 17
10. Daniel Ricciardo AUS Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7 1:26.723 + 1.042 20
11. Jean-Éric Vergne FRA Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7 1:26.733 + 1.052 17
12. Kimi Räikkönen FIN Lotus F1 Renault E20 1:26.737 + 1.056 15
13. Kamui Kobayashi JPN Sauber Ferrari C31 1:26.755 + 1.074 19
14. Nico Hülkenberg DEU Force India Mercedes VJM05 1:27.029 + 1.348 23
15. Bruno Senna BRA Williams Renault FW34 1:27.119 + 1.438 20
16. Fernando Alonso ESP Scuderia Ferrari F2012 1:27.323 + 1.642 19
17. Paul di Resta GBR Force India Mercedes VJM05 1:27.428 + 1.174 22
18. Felipe Massa BRA Scuderia Ferrari F2012 1:28.023 + 2.342 19
19. Heikki Kovalainen FIN Caterham Renault CT01 1:28.341 + 2.660 19
20. Vitaly Petrov RUS Caterham Renault CT01 1:28.702 + 3.021 11
21. Timo Glock DEU Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01 1:30.728 + 5.047 13
22. Charles Pic FRA Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01 1:31.225 + 5.544 14
23. Narain Karthikeyan IND HRTF1 Cosworth F112 1:33.114 + 7.433 12
24. Pedro de la Rosa ESP HRTF1 Cosworth F112 1:33.261 + 7.580 13

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.