March 15th, 2014 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - It's advantage Mercedes after the third and final practice session for the Australian Grand Prix. Nico Rosberg set the pace, just under 1.4 seconds faster than his nearest challenger, McLaren's Jenson Button. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso was third fastest, ahead of the second Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, who made a mistake on his soft tyre run that cost him a much quicker lap time.
Mercedes had such pace that Hamilton's fourth place time was set on the medium compound Pirelli tyres. This weekend the medium compound is the harder (and therefore slower) of the two compounds available to the teams). It's difficult to directly compare pace in practice, as fuel loads can vary from team to team, but if the advantage shown by Mercedes is an accurate reflection of the current pecking order, then qualfiying should be quite a comfortable affair for the Silver Arrows.
The weather conditions were quite a bit different during FP3 to those seen on Friday. Track temperature and air temperature were lower, there were threatening clouds above the track and the wind was stronger than on Friday. As a result, quite a few drivers made mistakes under braking for turn 9, locking up the rear wheels under braking and running wide onto the grass and gravel. Similar mistakes were also made under braking for turn 13. Lewis Hamilton was one of the those caught out in turn 9, which twice cost him the opportunity to set a competitive lap time on the soft tyres.
Inevitably at this early stage of a season with such great technical changes, there were some teams who struggled to set lap times at all in the session. Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean failed to set lap times for Williams, Sauber and Lotus respectively. Maldonado's Lotus stopped on track in the closing stages of the session, which will be worrying for the team from Enstone as they rush to prepare for qualifying.
Williams have reported that Bottas's car needs a gearbox change. With these new 2014 cars, changing the gearbox can take a few hours, which makes it uncertain whether or not Bottas will feature in qualifying. He will also receive a 5-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox.
In the up-coming qualifying session, some teams will be facing the unfamiliar possibility of not qualifying within the 107% limit. In order to qualify for the race, a driver must set a Q1 lap time that is not more than 7% slower than the fastest time in Q1. In today's FP3 session, Marcus Ericsson would have been outside that time, although his Caterham team-mate, Kamui Kobayashi, was well inside the 107% time.
Full results from FP3:
|5||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing||1:30.970||1.595||13|
|6||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||1:30.978||1.603||16|
|9||11||Sergio Perez||Force India||1:31.665||2.29||17|
|11||26||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||1:31.925||2.55||17|
|12||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing||1:32.255||2.88||14|
|13||25||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1:32.417||3.042||16|
|20||77||Valtteri Bottas||Williams||No time||2|
|21||21||Esteban Gutierrez||Sauber||No time||2|
|22||8||Romain Grosjean||Lotus||No time||4|