Australian Grand Prix – Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel finished more than two seconds clear of anyone in final practice, thanks to a late run on Pirelli’s HyperSoft tyre in an otherwise rainy session.
With rain hitting the track early on Saturday morning, it was a slow start to FP3 as the teams appeared to be content with waiting for conditions to clear up a bit. This resulted in just one time being set in the opening twenty minutes of the session, coming from Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg on the full Wet tyres. This compound was the tyre of choice as most of the drivers went out to complete installation laps, with just Fernando Alonso choosing to head out on the Intermediate tyres before immediately returning to the pits.
The grip wasn’t quite there yet though, with both Hulkenberg and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen having big sideways moments leaving Turn 10, although they both managed to keep their cars out of the wall.
Verstappen, using the Intermediates, then put in a 1:35.5 to go fastest, two seconds clear of teammate Daniel Ricciardo as the times slowly started being put up on the board approaching the halfway point of the session. It was at this point that Mercedes attempted to send out Lewis Hamilton, who seemed to suffer some sort of issue which prevented him being able to pull out of his garage, with the team electing to put the tyre blankets back on while they figured out what the problem was.
With conditions improving, the Ferraris and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso joined in the fun near the top, while Mercedes fitted Hamilton’s car with a new steering wheel as they tried to figure out what his issue was. This seemed to rectify it, and he was able to join in the action with half an hour remaining. At this point, it was a Red Bull 1-2, with Sebastian Vettel in P3 for Ferrari and a second off the pace of Verstappen.
Conditions continued to improve, with race control enabling the DRS, allowing Fernando Alonso to move up to the top with a 1:34.2. Moments later, Mercedes took over with Bottas going fastest ahead of Hamilton.
The track went quiet for about ten minutes after this, before McLaren came back out with both of their drivers. Vandoorne jumped up to P3 from P14, with Fernando Alonso fastest of all at the end of the second sector on his lap before aborting and returning to the pits.
With three minutes remaining, Carlos Sainz took over at the very front with a 1:33.1 in the Renault and still running Intermediates. However, quite a few drivers headed out on slick tyres right at the end to chase the headline times, with both Ferraris armed with the HyperSofts. Vettel put in a 1:26.0 to go five seconds clear of anyone, before Raikkonen popped up into P2. He was 2.5 down on his teammate on the same tyre on these final runs, but still well ahead of the rest of the pack. Marcus Ericsson, sampling the UltraSoft, highlighted the improving conditions by popping his Sauber into P3 right at the chequered flag.
Max Verstappen finished P4 as first of the Intermediate runners, ahead of Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo. Valtteri Bottas was the leading Mercedes by finishing P7, 0.051 clear of Lewis Hamilton, while the McLarens of Stoffel Vandoorne & Fernando Alonso finished P9 & P10 respectively. The only drivers not to make an appearance were the Force Indias, with the team saying they were ‘saving themselves for qualifying’.