Lewis Hamilton heads into qualifying as the fastest man so far this weekend after topping final practice as two of the men expected to challenge him for pole spun off. Sebastian Vettel missed out on a qualifying simulation after sliding off at turn six while Michael Schumacher lost control of his Mercedes at turn six on his final run.
Hamilton's quickest effort came on the third lap of his qualifying simulation as McLaren began to show their hand but the surprise of the session came in the form of Romain Grosjean who was less than a tenth behind in the Lotus.
Mercedes sent both drivers out for an early thrash around a dry Albert Park circuit as the whole field looked to make up for lost time. Both Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher took trips through the gravel on their first lap but once they settled into a rhythm, the two W03s jumped straight to the top of the timesheet.
By mid-session, the German duo led the way from Hamilton and Mark Webber who were persevering on medium tyres. Vettel was doing likewise and just as we as about to call into the pits, the reigning champion put a wheel on the grass on the way into turn six and was forced to vacate his Red Bull in the gravel trap.
With seven minutes to go, Grosjean emerged from nowhere to knock Rosberg off the top with Hamilton and Button slotting in behind as they bolted on the softs. Webber was also on option tyres and split the Brits but was lucky to avoid the yellow flags which signalled the end of Schumacher's session. The 43 year old found himself in the same gravel trap as his former Ferrari colleague Felipe Massa yesterday and would have to settle for sixth, just behind his teammate.
With a minute to go, Hamilton sneaked in front of Grosjean with a 1:25.681 but with only half a second separating him from Vettel in seventh, qualifying looks set to be a thriller. Pastor Maldonado's impressive weekend continued with eighth ahead of Sergio Perez and the two Toro Rossos of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne.
Kimi Raikkonen was 12th fastest as he struggled to hit the heights of his younger teammate but the Finn's former employers had a tough morning. Ferrari didn't seem to have any raw speed at any stage as the F2012 continued to behave erratically. Fernando Alonso was top dog for the prancing horse but that was only good enough for 16th, with Felipe Massa 18th.