Mercedes continued to live up to their pre-race favourite status as Nico Rosberg topped the timing sheets at the end of the third and final Free Practice session of the Australian Grand Prix weekend, Round 1 of the 2014 Formula 1 World Championship, in Melbourne.
So far only the Silver Arrows drivers, Rosberg and teammate Lewis Hamilton have dipped below the 90 second mark around Albert Park, however the time set with the all new V6 turbo era cars was almost 3.5 seconds down on last year’s best times set by Sebastian Vettel in the normally aspirated V8 predecessors.
Rosberg’s 1:29.375 in the morning session was the best time of the weekend thus far, and 1.4 seconds up on his closest rival during the session which was hampered by strong winds throughout the hour with heavy rain-laden clouds looming overhead, seeing several drivers caught out at various points on the circuit due to the conditions.
Back on track, McLaren’s Jenson Button was second fastest, with Fernando Alonso third fastest and showing that the Ferrari is up there among the Mercedes powered pace setters but question marks hang over their race pace around the temporary street circuit. His new teammate Kimi Raikkonen was seventh.
Lewis Hamilton was a second and a half down on his Mercedes teammate, which was enough for the fourth fastest time, but one and a half seconds down on the top pace, but notably also about a second down on his FP2 topping best of the previous day.
Red Bull debutante Daniel Ricciardo was fastest of the beleaguered Renault powered posse, with the fifth best time. He appeared more comfortable than his world champion teammate Sebastian Vettel who was 12th on the timing sheets. At one point he exclaimed in exasperation over the radio: “The car is horrible.”
Nico Hulkenberg was sixth fastest in his Force India, with teammate Sergio Perez ninth, with Kevin Magnussen, in the McLaren, best of the rookies, set the eighth best time.
Making it seven Mercedes powered cars in the top ten was Felipe Massa, tenth fastest is the Williams.
Lotus continued to endure a torrid opening weekend, with Romain Grosjean not managing to set a time while Pastor Maldonado did manage laps but was beset with problems, and his best effort was only good for 18th. It’s a clear case of how the mighty have fallen, considering that the Enstone outfit won the season opener at the same venue twelve months earlier, and throughout 2013 was were often best-of-the-rest behind the dominant Red Bulls.
Williams decided on a gearbox change for Valtteri Bottas, which resulted in no timed lap for the Finn and a grid penalty for the race.
Less than 15 minutes into the session Esteban Gutierrez coasted round slowly to the pits in his Sauber, and reported: “The gearbox, something’s wrong with the gearbox. I don’t think I can make it back [to the pits].” He too failed to set a time.
So ended FP3 in Australia, clearly the Mercedes powered brigade have the upper-hand, but Ferrari may well be carrying some extra fire power which they have yet to fully unleash. The Renault brigade are still in trouble, but indications are that the situation may not be so dire – however Lotus have their very own black cloud hanging overhead.
Subbed by AJN.
Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne – Free Practice 3, Saturday 15 March
|5||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:30.970||1.595||13|
|6||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1:30.978||1.603||16|
|9||11||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||1:31.665||2.290||17|
|12||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:32.255||2.880||14|
|20||77||Valtteri Bottas||Williams-Mercedes||No time||2|
|21||21||Esteban Gutierrez||Sauber-Ferrari||No time||2|
|22||8||Romain Grosjean||Lotus-Renault||No time||4|