Nico Rosberg reinforced Mercedes’ position as favourites in Australia as he topped final practice ahead of qualifying.
Rosberg utterly dominated the windy morning session for Mercedes, going fastest of all at the wheel of the W05, setting his best lap of 1:29.375 with 15 minutes of the hour long session remaining on a set of the soft Pirelli tyres.
Jenson Button was second fastest in the McLaren, some 1.3 seconds adrift of Rosberg’s best time, in a session interrupted by off-track excursions for the 2009 champion, most notably at turn nine, where the tail winds proved particularly troublesome for the drivers.
Fernando Alonso rounded out the top three for Ferrari, a tenth down on Button, while Lewis Hamilton ended the session fourth overall in the second of the Mercedes cars, the Briton having looked odds on to set the fastest time of Saturday morning before an off at turn nine spoilt his quick lap.
Daniel Ricciardo was the best of the two Red Bull’s with a best lap of 1:30.970, good enough to put him sixth overall, the Australian having complained about his lack of front end grip throughout the morning.
His team-mate Sebastian Vettel was 12th, the four-time champion struggling to set a competitive time in the RB10, which looked to be a handful, ending the session sandwiched between the Toro Rosso’s of Daniil Kvyat and Jean-Eric Vergne on the time sheets.
The two Force Indias were sixth and ninth, Nico Hulkenberg ahead of his new team-mate Sergio Perez, as Kimi Raikkonen and Kevin Magnussen, who both went off track during the session as a result of a lack of balance, split the British-based squads cars in seventh and eighth. Felipe Massa round out the top ten for Williams.
It was another difficult morning for Lotus, as Romain Grosjean suffered with a misfire in the E22, a problem he expressed his frustration with via team radio, which meant he completed just four laps before his session came to a premature end, failing to set a time in the process.
Valtteri Bottas and Estban Guttierez also failed to set a lap time, the two drivers both having their sessions cut short as a result of gearbox problems. Both are expected to require a change of unit, which will see both the Finn and the Mexican handed a five-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.
Pastor Maldonado managed to put 15 laps on the board on his way to 18th overall, before a late failure reinforced Lotus’ misery on Saturday morning, the Venezuelan stopping out on track in the closing moments of the session bringing out the yellow flags.
Free Practice Three – Classification
1. Nico Rosberg – Mercedes – 1:29.375 – 15 laps
2. Jenson Button – McLaren-Mercedes – 1:30.766 +1.391s 20 laps
3. Fernando Alonso – Ferrari – 1:30.876 +1.501s – 11 laps
4. Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes – 1:30.919 +1.544s – 13 laps
5. Daniel Ricciardo – Red Bull-Renault – 1:30.970 +1.595s – 13 laps
6. Nico Hulkenberg – Force India-Mercedes – 1:30.978 +1.603s – 16 laps
7. Kimi Räikkönen – Ferrari – 1:31.156 +1.781s – 12 laps
8. Kevin Magnussen – McLaren-Mercedes – 1:31.251 +1.876s – 22 laps
9. Sergio Perez – Force India-Mercedes – 1:31.665 +2.290s – 17 laps
10. Felipe Massa – Williams-Mercedes – 1:31.723 +2.348s – 20 laps
11. Daniil Kvyat – Toro Rosso-Renault – 1:31.925 +2.550s – 17 laps
12. Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull-Renault – 1:32.255 +2.880s – 14 laps
13. Jean-Eric Vergne – Toro Rosso-Renault – 1:32.417 +3.042s – 16 laps
14. Jules Bianchi – Marussia-Ferrari – 1:34.184 +4.809s – 15 laps
15. Adrian Sutil – Sauber-Ferrari – 1:34.188 +4.813s – 16 laps
16. Kamui Kobayashi – Caterham-Renault – 1:34.413 +5.038s – 19 laps
17. Max Chilton – Marussia-Ferrari – 1:34.717 +5.342s – 15 laps
18. Pastor Maldonado – Lotus-Renault – 1:34.754 +5.379s – 15 laps
19. Marcus Ericsson – Caterham-Renault – 1:36.159 +6.784s – 21 laps
20. Valtteri Bottas – Williams-Mercedes – No time set – 2 laps
21. Esteban Gutierrez – Sauber-Ferrari – No time set – 2 laps
22. Romain Grosjean – Lotus-Renault – No time set – 4 laps
Images courtesy of Mercedes AMG PETRONAS and Lotus F1 Team