Hamilton fastest as Vettel lands in gravel
17 March 2012 – McLaren's Lewis Hamilton set the pace during the third and final practice session of the weekend in Melbourne, posting a time of 1:25.681 to eclipse Romain Grosjean by 0.077 seconds. Mark Webber completed the top three at the wheel of his Red Bull, while team-mate Sebastian Vettel ended his morning in the gravel.
With Friday's two practice sessions severely hindered by adverse weather conditions, this morning was all about fine-tuning setups ahead of qualifying. Much clearer skies raised the air temperature to almost 20°C (68°F), leading Mercedes to promptly make its ambitions clear. Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher climbed to the top of the order with ease, but both men suffered a series of off-track excursions, the latter ultimately spinning out at Turn 9 as the session drew to a close.
Webber enjoyed a late surge to go third quickest in front of an expectant home crowd, but his team-mate endured a much more challenging session. Having struggled to get to grips with his Renault-powered machine 24 hours ago, reigning Champion Vettel put two wheels on the grass verge on the entry to Turn 6 and could do nothing to stop his car from spiralling out of control. The mistake saw him slip down to seventh, with Jenson Button, Rosberg and Schumacher all improving soon after.
Pastor Maldonado cut out his mistakes to place Williams inside the top ten, although the misfortune appeared to transfer over to the other side of the garage when Bruno Senna span wildly at the penultimate corner. Sergio Pérez and Daniel Ricciardo quietly racked up the miles en route to ninth and tenth in the standings, with the latter just doing enough to outpace Toro Rosso team-mate Jean-Éric Vergne.
Notable omissions from the fastest ten runners were Kimi Räikkönen and both Ferrari men. The Finn, who has been struggling to cope with an inconsistent steering system this weekend, wound up almost a full second adrift of fellow Lotus pilot Grosjean, with his car visibly nervous in the acceleration zones. However, the situation was worse for Fernando Alonso (16th) and Felipe Massa (18th), who found it difficult to keep the F2012 on-track from the offset.
Caterham, Marussia and HRT completed the order in their respective pairs, with Kovalainen the fastest of the six, just three tenths behind Massa's Ferrari. Charles Pic closed the gap to team-mate Glock during his second day with Marussia's new car, while Pedro de la Rosa completed 12 laps to edge ahead of Narain Karthikeyan.
Saturday's all-important Qualifying session starts at 5pm local time (BST +11) and can also be tracked through the interactive GPUpdate.net Live Report