Sebastian Vettel broke his own Albert Park lap record on Saturday when he scorched to the top of the times as Ferrari roared again in final free practice ahead of this weekend’s 2017 Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix.
The four-time champion German clocked a best-ever Melbourne lap in one minute and 23.380 midway through the 90 minutes’ action and stayed on top when the action was curtailed by a late accident involving Canadian rookie Lance Stroll of Williams.
Vettel had recorded the previous best-ever lap when he clocked 1:23.529 in qualifying with Red Bull in 2011, a mark that was threatened on Friday when three-time champion Briton Lewis Hamilton topped the times in 1:23.620 for Mercedes.
The Englishman and Mercedes were not able to match Vettel on Saturday in FP3, however, with Hamilton third behind his new Mercedes team-mate Finn Valtteri Bottas, who was 0.479 seconds adrift of the German.
Finn Kimi Raikkonen, in the second Ferrari, was fourth behind the two Mercedes, the top four emerging as the only cars to dip below 1.24 during a busy session run in warm and muggy weather.
German Nico Hulkenberg was fifth quickest for his new team Renault, with a best lap in 1:25.063, ahead of Australian Daniel Riccirdo of Red Bull, who was a whisker behind him, Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Haas, Spaniard Carlos Sainz and his Toro Rosso team-mate Russian Daniil Kvyat and Dane Kevin Magnussen in the second Haas.
All of the leading cars and drivers confirmed the much-increased pace of this year’s new generation ‘fatter and faster’ cars, signaling that more records are likely to be in store later Saturday in the official qualifying session.
On a humid afternoon, with a track temperature of 35 degrees Celsius, the Ferraris were the first team to enter the fray on ultra-soft tyres, Vettel setting the pace ahead of Raikkonen, while Mercedes waited to run.
Finn Raikkonen picked up an early left-rear puncture and was called in by the team just as the Ferrari reserve driver, Antonio Giovinazzi, made his first appearance for Sauber, following his emergency late call to replace unfit German Pascal Wehrlein.
Both Ferraris were soon down under the 1:24 mark, but unable to match Hamilton’s best time from Friday practice before Vettel soared to the top of the times with a lap in 1:23.380, well inside his own pole position lap record of 1:23.529 set for Red Bull in 2011.
Further drama came in the closing minutes when, with 10 minutes to go, Stroll lost control on his exit from Turn 11 and glanced the barriers with his right wheels. He was unhurt and walked away as the session was red-flagged.
This left the leading teams with precious little time to fine-tune or test their qualifying set-ups ahead before the session was flagged without any further action.
Giovinazzi wound up down in 20th and last place, as expected for a driver on his debut, but it was another frustrating session also for McLaren Honda with two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso and his team-mate Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne in 14th and 15th places.