McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton has topped the timesheets in Saturday afternoon’s third and final practice for the Qantas Australian Formula One Grand Prix, the hour headlined by off-track excursions for world champions Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher.
Hamilton set his benchmark time of 1min 25.681secs with just 60 seconds of the hour-long session remaining, edging Albert Park first-timer Romain Grosjean of Lotus by 0.077secs.
Australian Mark Webber was third for Red Bull Racing, two-tenths of a second off top spot, but it was teammate Vettel who stole the show for the wrong reasons when he slid off the road at Turn 6 with 15 minutes remaining and beached the RB8 in the gravel trap.
The reigning world champion had just jumped to third on the timesheets on the medium compound Pirelli tyre when he dropped the left front wheel of his car onto the grass on approach to the corner, the resultant spin ending his session. The German finished third practice in seventh place.
Vettel’s mentor and seven-time world champion Schumacher also ended third practice as a spectator after beaching the Mercedes at Turn 9 with six minutes remaining. After topping the times in Friday’s second practice, Schumacher led the Saturday session in the early stages before falling to sixth.
Schumacher’s teammate Nico Rosberg set the pace for the first half of the session as the teams and drivers attempted to make up for track time lost in Friday’s rain-affected second session, and it was Grosjean who shot to the front as the teams completed their qualifying simulations on the softer rubber later in the hour, hauling his Lotus to P1 with eight minutes to go.
After a yellow flag period caused by Schumacher’s off, it looked like last year’s GP2 champion would stay top until Hamilton’s late flyer.
Hamilton’s teammate Jenson Button was fourth and Rosberg finished fifth, while further back, Ferrari’s troubled build-up to the start of the season continued with Fernando Alonso in 16th place, 1.6secs off the benchmark pace. Teammate Felipe Massa was 18th and had a spin at Turn 15 early in the session.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo was 10th for Toro Rosso, just one one-hundredth of a second quicker than rookie French teammate Jean-Eric Vergne.
Qualifying for the first Grand Prix of the season takes place at 5pm on Saturday afternoon.