Lewis Hamilton completed a clean sweep of all three practice sessions for the Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix, but the final hit-out before qualifying delivered all of the drama that Friday’s two sessions had lacked.
With damp and windy conditions leading to slower times than Friday’s two sessions, the championship leader still managed to stamp his authority on the stopwatch although this time the Mercedes driver was chased hard by arch-rival Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari.
A rain shower hit the Suzuka Circuit 15 minutes into the one-hour session and once the track surface had dried out he went on to post a 1:29.599 to clear the German by just over one-tenth of a second.
Vettel’s teammate Kimi Räikkönen was third-fastest, just under half a second down on Hamilton’s best time, while the Briton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas found himself sandwiched in fifth between the Red Bull Racing pair of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
Beyond the ‘big three’ teams, no one else could get within one second of Hamilton’s best time, with Force India’s Esteban Ocon continuing to hold his ‘best of the rest’ mantle with the seventh-fastest time ahead of teammate Sergio Pérez.
The top ten was completed by Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, but the session was disastrous for the former’s teammate Nico Hülkenberg. The German dropped his left rear wheel on the grass exiting the first of the sweeps at the Esses and crashed heavily into the barriers, bringing out the red flag with just three minutes of FP3 to go. His RS18 suffered extensive damage, putting his participation in the afternoon’s qualifying session in doubt with less than two hours available to repair his car.
|FORMULA 1 2018 HONDA JAPANESE GRAND PRIX – FREE PRACTICE SESSION 3 TIMES|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Time||Gap||Laps|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:29.599||13|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:29.715||+ 0.116||14|
|3.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:30.054||+ 0.455||13|
|4.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||1:30.304||+ 0.705||13|
|5.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:30.422||+ 0.823||13|
|6.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||1:30.474||+ 0.875||10|
|7.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:31.088||+ 1.489||12|
|8.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:31.483||+ 1.884||12|
|9.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:31.513||+ 1.914||14|
|10.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:31.521||+ 1.922||13|
|11.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:31.636||+ 2.037||14|
|12.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:31.760||+ 2.161||14|
|13.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:32.030||+ 2.431||13|
|14.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:32.201||+ 2.602||14|
|15.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:32.224||+ 2.625||12|
|16.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:32.442||+ 2.843||10|
|17.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:32.608||+ 3.009||14|
|18.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:32.631||+ 3.032||14|
|19.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:33.034||+ 3.435||13|
|20.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:33.105||+ 3.506||10|
Image via Formula1.com