Breaking the unofficial lap record this morning around Albert Park at Melbourne, Sebastian Vettel knocked Lewis Hamilton off the top spot to finish the final practice session fastest. Ferrari had been the car to beat for the full hour session but no other teams were able to get close enough. The session finished early as Lance Stroll brought out a red flag at the end of the session after crashing into a wall.
The morning started with news that Pascal Wehrlein had dropped out of the opening race of the season due to a recurring issue with the injury he suffered at the Race of Champions. This has given Antonio Giovinazzi the opportunity to step up and compete in his first Formula One race.
Not even Mercedes could make a dent on Vettel’s overall fastest lap time. With a 1:23.380, Vettel set a new unofficial lap record (beating his own fastest 2011 pole lap time) and finished the session just under half a second faster than Valtteri Bottas in P2.
Kimi Raikkonen had been the fastest man on track for most of the beginning of the session, trading the top spot with his teammate a couple of times. A rear puncture saw Raikkonen go deep into Turn 13 as he tried to slow the car dow having felt the damage. Unexplainable to Ferrari, the Finn’s car proceeded to cut out as the engine locked up when he tried to slow down. Luckily he was able to restart his Ferrari and get it back to the pits for a new set of tyres and a check over.
He finished the session fourth fastest with a time of 1:23.988. That was the time he set to be fastest overall before Vettel put in his record-breaking lap time. Raikkonen finished the session six-tenths off of Vettel’s time.
For the first time, Bottas managed to finish a session ahead of his teammate Hamilton. The Brit had led the way to his new teammate throughout most of the session but just before the red flag that ended the session early came out, he managed to jump Hamilton as the Mercedes pair demoted Raikkonen to fourth and split the Ferrari 1-2.
The top six set their fastest lap times on the ultra soft tyres, whilst the rest of the field set theirs on the super softs. In a surprise to everyone, Nico Hulkenberg managed to break into the top six: fifth and 1.6 seconds off of Vettel’s lap time. He finished ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who could only put his Red Bull sixth.
It was not a good morning for Red Bull as their second driver of Max Verstappen finished P12 and 2.8 seconds off the pace. The concern for the Verstappen case is that there were no specific car faults that held him in the garage for a long time, according to team principal Christian Horner.
Verstappen completed only seven laps within the hour. Only Fernando Alonso completed fewer laps in his troubled McLaren. Consistent with their performance in Free Practice Two, The McLaren’s ended P14/15, with Alonso leading his rookie teammate Stoffel Vandoorne by two tenths of a second.
If McLaren could repeat this performance later on in qualifying they would manage to get both of their cars into Q2, which would be impressive considering the troubled start they’ve had to their 2017 campaign.
Despite having brake issues that held him in the garage for most of the first half of the session, Romain Grosjean was seventh fastest and the fastest driver to set a time on the super-soft tyres. Carlos Sainz Jr, who also had issues that saw him sitting in the garage for a while, put in a decent showing to finish eighth fastest, ahead of teammate Daniil Kvyat and Kevin Magnussen who rounded off the top ten.
The session ended ten minutes early as Stroll hit the wall at the exit of Turn 10. He had been on an ultra soft tyre run when he tagged the wall, damaging the right rear suspension and potentially the right front. The car rolled to a stop, halfway towards Turn 11, in the middle of the track and ended the session ten minutes early.