Hamilton in command in final F1 practice
Lewis Hamilton ended the final practice session ahead of this weekend’s Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix more than a quarter of a second faster than the chasing pack.
A late qualifying simulation saw Hamilton top the timesheets, heading Sebastian Vettel, who made a mistake on his own flyer to sit second fastest.
Charles Leclerc was third in the second Ferrari while Valtteri Bottas ran wide at the penultimate corner to sit just seventh at the end of the final, 60-minute session.
The Williams pair of Robert Kubica and George Russell were the first to set times as the session started, though predictably fell down the order as others emerged.
Max Verstappen was among those out early, the Red Bull driver having received a new chassis since Friday’s running after the team discovered a problem in the fuel tank.
Romain Grosjean was also churning out laps after Haas had spent much of the night to repair an oil leak in his car, breaking the curfew in the process.
A near miss in the pit lane left officials investigating McLaren after the team released Lando Norris into the path of Kubica, though nothing came of the incident during the session.
After a slow start which saw only a handful of cars on track, the session picked up after 20 minutes, a busy 10 minute period saw Ferrari and Mercedes begin to flex their muscles in a battle that would last for much fo the second half of the session.
Valtteri Bottas started the cut and thrust, banking a 1:23.853s before Vettel set a 1:23.739s, and Hamilton a 1:23.699s.
The second Ferrari of Leclerc took longer to join the party, missing the front running pace by 0.8s with his first serious lap before taking a cooldown lap and shaping up again.
The net result was a 1:23.848s, which was good enough to put the youngster third fastest.
What followed was a series of laps that saw the benchmark lowered, firstly by Bottas and then by Hamilton, who went a third of a second quicker than anyone else with a 1:23.360s.
Vettel responded with 13 minutes to run, recording a 1:22.556s, a time which was eight tenths quicker than Hamilton had managed.
Predictably, the 2018 world champion responded to the threat to go a quarter of a second clear and stamp his authority on the session.
Having ended Friday’s running sixth fastest, Kimi Raikkonen showed the Alfa Romeo has pace for the coming year, positioning himself as next best behind the two leading teams at the time.
Haas was also well represented towards the top of the midfield battle, Grosjean edging ahead of Raikkonen while Perez put Racing Point into seventh.
An aggressive entry into pit lane saw Kubica tag the wall, scattering debris from the Williams onto the narrow pit entry road.
With 20 minutes remaining the gap covering the midfield saw sixth through 18th covered by just eight tenths, a pack that included both Red Bulls.
The final quarter of the session saw teams slip into qualifying simulations, with the midfield battle igniting just as the fight at the front between Ferrari and Mercedes had.
Kevin Magnussen and Grosjean showed Haas has pace, though neither was able to get within half a second of the lead Ferrari.
Red Bull was mired in the midfield pack alongside the likes of Renault, with Ricciardo 10th, and Alfa Romeo which had Giovinazzi 12th while Raikkonen slipped to 17th.
Teams will now regroup ahead of the opening qualifying session of the season which gets underway at 1700 AEDT.
Results: Australian Grand Prix, Practice 3
|4||8||Romain Grosjean||HAAS FERRARI||1:23.112||+0.820s||17|
|5||20||Kevin Magnussen||HAAS FERRARI||1:23.334||+1.042s||15|
|6||10||Pierre Gasly||RED BULL RACING HONDA||1:23.367||+1.075s||17|
|8||26||Daniil Kvyat||SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA||1:23.442||+1.150s||16|
|9||33||Max Verstappen||RED BULL RACING HONDA||1:23.481||+1.189s||19|
|12||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||ALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI||1:23.831||+1.539s||16|
|13||55||Carlos Sainz||MCLAREN RENAULT||1:24.049||+1.757s||21|
|14||11||Sergio Perez||RACING POINT BWT MERCEDES||1:24.082||+1.790s||18|
|15||23||Alexander Albon||SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA||1:24.328||+2.036s||15|
|16||18||Lance Stroll||RACING POINT BWT MERCEDES||1:24.345||+2.053s||16|
|17||7||Kimi Räikkönen||ALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI||1:24.402||+2.110s||18|
|18||4||Lando Norris||MCLAREN RENAULT||1:24.568||+2.276s||16|
|19||63||George Russell||WILLIAMS MERCEDES||1:25.944||+3.652s||14|
|20||88||Robert Kubica||WILLIAMS MERCEDES||1:26.589||+4.297s||16|