Nico Rosberg made it three in a row as he was fastest once again for the final practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix. He set the fastest time on the soft compound of tyre with a 1:32.092, three-tenths up on second-placed Daniel Ricciardo.
With a damp track awaiting the drivers for the final hour of practice, the session was fairly light of action. The conditions were too dry for the intermediate tyres but too wet for full slicks, making it very difficult to gauge which tyres to complete running on. A dark sky overhead also lead to an assumption that wet weather may be on its way.
But the clouds never broke and it was Fernando Alonso who set the first recorded time with just over half the session remaining.
Slowly the rest of the field took to the track to begin setting their lap times and the tarmac began to dry. Everyone was running on the slick compounds after completing installation laps on the intermediates and wet tyres.
Rosberg took the early advantage as, on the medium compound of tyre, he went faster than Lewis Hamilton by 0.054 seconds. Kimi Raikkonen showed once again that the Ferrari has potential race pace by going third fastest, only three tenths off of the time Rosberg set.
It was with just ten minutes to go that the low fuel, soft tyre runs began to happen. Rosberg’s improvement was staggering and unchallenged as he went 1.1 seconds faster than his original lap time, setting his fastest overall time. A lot of the cars headed out onto the track at the same time meaning there was a lot of traffic to weave through.
This affected Hamilton, Max Verstappen, and Raikkonen worst. The Finnish driver was affected most after setting a purple sector one as he got blocked by a Renault that ruining his lap. Hamilton and Verstappen also missed out on setting qualifying simulation laps.
Ricciardo was second behind Rosberg by three-tenths. Vettel had been second, six-tenths off the pace, until the Australian improved. It still looks like Red Bull have the pace advantage on Ferrari, especially for qualifying. Verstappen lead Raikkonen across the line with Felipe Massa finishing sixth fastest for Williams.
Hamilton was seventh, with a surprising eighth-ninth finish for Renault as Jolyon Palmer finished ahead of Kevin Magnussen. This could show strong signs of a good performance from the French team going into qualifying. Nico Hulkenberg rounded off the top ten with Fernando Alonso finishing just outside of it.
There was no major issue in this session, with only the Degner 1 Turn catching a few drivers out. Esteban Gutierrez had a spin earlier on in the session through the Esses but with no one else on track the spin had little impact on the session.
Carlos Sainz Jr had the worst session, completing only 3 laps before his Toro Rosso was forced back into the pits. The team did not announce what was wrong with Sainz’ car but there looked to be a big problem. The rubber gloves were put on as a precaution when Sainz returned to the pits in case the issue was with the electrical system. Whether his car will be ready for qualifying is unknown.