World champion Sebastian Vettel was in peerless form in practice at Albert Park on Saturday Matthew Clayton reports
World champion Sebastian Vettel has sent an ominous warning to his rivals ahead of qualifying for the 2011 Qantas Australian Grand Prix, dominating third and final practice at Albert Park on Saturday afternoon.
The 23-year-old German recorded a session-best lap of 1min 24.507secs with two minutes remaining in the hour and finished 0.857secs ahead of teammate Mark Webber. Vettel even set a second lap faster than Webber’s best time in the final 60 seconds of the session, underlining his dominance.
It was Red Bull first and daylight second on Saturday afternoon, with third-placed Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) finishing 1.046secs behind world champion Vettel. Hamilton finished just 0.014secs ahead of teammate Jenson Button, while Renault’s Vitaly Petrov was an impressive fifth, the Russian narrowly surviving a wild moment on his final lap when he ran very wide over the kerbing on the outside of Turn 12.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was sixth, while Japanese Kamui Kobayashi was a promising seventh for Sauber. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), Nick Heidfeld (Renault) and Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) rounded out the top 10.
Vettel set the tone when he topped the timesheets on his first flying lap 23 minutes into the session, and after Webber and Button both took over briefly the German reclaimed top spot after 43 minutes.
While Red Bull sailed on at the front of the field, there were difficulties elsewhere. The on-board camera on the roll hoop of Felipe Massa’s Ferrari came loose in the last 10 minutes and fell off on circuit; the Brazilian finished a lowly 12th, nine-tenths of a second slower than teammate Alonso.
Williams rookie Pastor Maldonado was another driver to have a problematic session; the Venezuelan spun at Turn 6 after 20 minutes and was ended up beaching the car in the gravel trap.
At the tail-end of the field, there were more difficulties for the second-year HRT outfit. Tonio Liuzzi stopped on his installation lap with an electronics problem, while teammate Narain Karthikeyan made it out on track for his first timed lap of the entire weekend in the dying stages, but was 17secs off Vettel’s front-running pace.
Qualifying will take place at 5pm this afternoon.