Melbourne Practice 3: Hamilton tops as Vettel and Schumi beach it

Michael Schumacher's practice session ended in the Albert Park gravel

Michael Schumacher's practice session ended in the Albert Park gravel

Mar.17 (PVM) Lewis Hamilton driving the McLaren MP4-27 gave a glimpse of his hand by setting the fastest lap in the final free practice session of the Australian Grand Prix weekend at Albert Park during a session which saw reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel and seven times champion Michael Schumacher end up in the gravel.

Lewis Hamilton fastest at the end of Free Practice 3 in Melbourne

Lewis Hamilton fastest at the end of Free Practice 3

Thankfully, after a miserable opening day, sunshine prevailed on day two over Melbourne as fans streamed in for what is set to be a very intriguing day.

Hamilton went top of the timing screens with a lap late on in the session which knocked Lotus driver Romain Grosjean down to second place where he remained until the chequered flag came out a few minutes later. But Grosjean’s pace also gave a hint of the E20’s capabilities.

Local hero Mark Webber, in the Red Bull RB8, gave the crowd a reason to feel confident ahead of the afternoon’s qualifying session by setting the third best time.

Next up on the timing sheets were a trio of Mercedes powered cars with Jenson Button fourth quickest in the McLaren, followed by Mercedes duo Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher in the handy W03 – fifth and sixth respectively.

Schumacher was heard complaining about an aggressive rear wing prior to losing the car entering Turn 9 and ending up in the gravel, where he remained with five minutes left in the session.

Fernando Alonso in the F2012

Fernando Alonso in the F2012

BBC F1 technical analyst Gary Anderson explained, “What Michael is trying to say when he talks about an aggressive rear wing is that when you open the [DRS] flap the airflow separates and there’s a big drag reduction. When he closes the flap, the airflow wasn’t re-attaching as consistently as it should. It looks like the rear wheels locked suddenly, which could be the tyres going away on the long run, or it could be the airflow not re-attaching in time.”

Ten minutes earlier, around the 45 minutes mark, with less than a dozen laps racked up, Sebastian Vettel lost the back end of the Red Bull RB8 entering Turn 6, becoming another victim of the Melbourne gravel. Problem for the world champion is that he has yet to sample the soft tyre which appears to be around half a second up on the mediums. Vettel, who was nevertheless seventh fastest in the session, is no stranger to practice setbacks, he normally bounces back by taking pole. Watch this space!

Eighth quickest was Pastor Maldonado in the Williams FW34, followed by Sergio Perez in the Sauber C31 and Daniel Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso STR7 making it two Aussies in the top ten.

Big hitters out of the top ten were Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen in 12th and the Ferrari pair Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa way down in 16th and 17th.

17.03.2012 Melbourne, Australia - Pedro De La Rosa (ESP) HRT Formula 1 Team - Formula1 World Championship Round 01 at Melbourne Albert Park +++ © Copyright: RACE-PRESS.com

Pedro de la Rosa did some meaningful laps at last in the HRT

The final session has done nothing to reveal a pecking order ahead of qualifying, although McLaren and Lotus have given hints –  but it appears that the top guns are keeping their powder dry until the afternoon’s qualifying session.

The usual suspects were at the bottom of the timing sheets, witht he brand new Marussia MR01s languishing five seconds off Hamilton’s best, with Timo Glock 21st and rookie Charles Pic 22nd, half a second down on his experienced team mate.

For the HRT squad there was progress as both drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan managed to do laps in their out the box F112 – albeit around 7.5 seconds down on the top pace.

For both these teams Melbourne is their first opportunity to test. Qualifying for the race will be a major achievement, especially for HRT who seem woefully behind schedule.

Free Practice 3 – Melbourne, 17 March 2012

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:25.681 18
2 10 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:25.758 0.077 21
3 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:25.900 0.219 20
4 3 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:25.906 0.225 17
5 8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:25.929 0.248 23
6 7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:26.078 0.397 14
7 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:26.211 0.530 12
8 18 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:26.470 0.789 17
9 15 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1:26.632 0.951 20
10 16 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:26.723 1.042 17
11 17 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:26.733 1.052 15
12 9 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:26.737 1.056 19
13 14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:26.755 1.074 21
14 12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:27.029 1.348 23
15 19 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1:27.119 1.438 20
16 5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:27.323 1.642 19
17 11 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:27.428 1.747 22
18 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:28.023 2.342 19
19 20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1:28.341 2.660 19
20 21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1:28.702 3.021 11
21 24 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1:30.728 5.047 13
22 25 Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1:31.225 5.544 14
23 22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1:33.114 7.433 12
24 23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1:33.261 7.580 13