Sochi FP3: Ferrari dominate

Sebastian Vettel

Formula 1 front-runner Sebastian Vettel kept Ferrari ahead of champions Mercedes in the final free practice session of the Russian Grand Prix weekend on Saturday.

The German, who is seven points clear of Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton after winning two of the first three races, lapped the Sochi street circuit with a fastest time of 1: 34.001 seconds on the ultrasoft tyres.

Finnish team mate Kimi Raikkonen was second on the timesheets, 0.337 of a second slower than the four-times world champion, with compatriot Valtteri Bottas third for Mercedes.

The Ferrari drivers led both sessions on Friday, with Bottas again quicker than triple world champion Hamilton who was half a second adrift of the top time.

Mercedes have led every lap in Sochi since the race made its debut on the grand prix calendar after the 2014 Winter Olympics, with Hamilton winning the first two races and now-retired 2016 champion Nico Rosberg triumphant last year.

The champions have also started the last 18 races on pole position but that remarkable run may end in Saturday’s later qualifying unless Mercedes are holding something back.

“I think Mercedes will be fine; it’s a circuit that suits them, so they will be strong,” Vettel had said after Friday practice.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fifth fastest with Brazilian Felipe Massa sixth for Williams.

Britain’s Jolyon Palmer did just four laps but failed to set a time after Renault changed his chassis overnight as a precautionary measure, following an exhaust leak.

The team will also replace the car’s engine before qualifying.

Russian Grand Prix, Sochi Autodrom – Free Practice 3, Best Lap Times

1 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:34.001   17
2 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:34.338 +0.337s 16
3 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:34.364 +0.363s 20
4 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:34.542 +0.541s 19
5 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:35.452 +1.451s 21
6 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:35.471 +1.470s 17
7 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 1:35.662 +1.661s 15
8 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:35.830 +1.829s 24
9 55 Carlos Sainz TORO ROSSO 1:36.164 +2.163s 20
10 20 Kevin Magnussen HAAS FERRARI 1:36.556 +2.555s 19
11 18 Lance Stroll WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:36.649 +2.648s 19
12 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:36.676 +2.675s 22
13 26 Daniil Kvyat TORO ROSSO 1:36.846 +2.845s 18
14 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN HONDA 1:36.869 +2.868s 12
15 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:36.962 +2.961s 21
16 8 Romain Grosjean HAAS FERRARI 1:37.164 +3.163s 20
17 2 Stoffel Vandoorne MCLAREN HONDA 1:37.182 +3.181s 15
18 9 Marcus Ericsson SAUBER FERRARI 1:37.503 +3.502s 21
19 94 Pascal Wehrlein SAUBER FERRARI 1:37.657 +3.656s 17
20 30 Jolyon Palmer RENAULT     4