Melbourne FP3: Hamilton tops as Vettel splits Mercedes duo


World champion Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in Free Practice 3 for Mercedes ahead of Australian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday as home favourite Daniel Ricciardo continued to have technical issues with his Red Bull.

But, if FP3 is anything to go by the stage is set for an intriguing qualifying session with Mercedes still the obvious team to beat, but Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari appear to have emerged as the ones most likely to challenge the Silver Arrows in Melbourne, and perhaps beyond.

World champion Hamilton clocked a quickest lap of 1:27.867 seconds, opening a cavernous gap of nearly seven-tenths of a second over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

Last year’s championship runner-up Nico Rosberg, who led Hamilton in both practice sessions on Friday, was third fastest, almost a second behind his British team mate – at one stage the pair trading places at the top of the timing screens until Hamilton put the hammer down.

Ricciardo was unable to take part in the second free practice session, 24 hours earlier, due to an engine problem and faced further issues in FP3, rolling back to the garage after stopping just outside the exit to pit-lane. The Australian’s best lap was 15th fastest.

Williams drivers Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa were fourth and fifth fastest respectively, with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen sixth.

Sauber were able to send two cars out in practice after former test driver Giedo van der Garde dropped his legal action against the team and refrained to claim his race seat at Albert Park.

However, Marcus Ericsson had a spin after over-steering into a kerb to finish 12th fastest, while his Brazilian team mate Felipe Nasr was 10th best.

McLaren underscored their lack of preparation for the new season with Kevin Magnussen 16th quickest and his team mate Jenson Button a further spot behind.

Manor Marussia, recently reborn after being taken into administration, were unable to put their cars on the track for a third successive practice session.

Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park – Saturday, Free Practice 3
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1:27.86711
2Sebastian VettelFerrari1:28.56313
3Nico RosbergMercedes1:28.82114
4Valtteri BottasWilliams1:28.91214
5Felipe MassaWilliams1:28.98818
6Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1:29.01713
7Romain GrosjeanLotus1:29.48112
8Pastor MaldonadoLotus1:29.86415
9Carlos Sainz JrToro Rosso1:29.86919
10Felipe NasrSauber1:29.93424
11Max VerstappenToro Rosso1:29.95216
12Marcus EricssonSauber1:30.61321
13Nico HulkenbergForce India1:30.74114
14Sergio PerezForce India1:30.99317
15Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1:31.18510
16Kevin MagnussenMcLaren1:31.39114
17Jenson ButtonMcLaren1:31.66613
18Daniil KvyatRed Bull1:32.8306