Romain Grosjean ended the final practice session before qualifying on top after setting the quickest time in fifteen minutes of dry running before heavy rain arrived in Melbourne. The Frenchman snuck in front of the two Ferraris with a 1:26.929 but many drivers were caught out, getting little or no dry running before the heavens opened.
The early end to dry running wasn’t the end of the drama though as Sebastian Vettel stopped at turn four ten minutes from the end of the session. After his dominance yesterday, the world champion was struck by a hydraulic problem which may well put him on his back foot for qualifying.
After their disastrous opening day, McLaren were straight down to business on heavy fuel although Jenson Button was soon complaining of understeer and tyre graining on the radio, suggesting the overnight set-up changes hadn’t had the desired effect. Because of the fuel being carried, Button and Sergio Perez were the slowest drivers to set times when the dry tarmac disappeared.
The lap times tumbled rapidly in the early stages with Mark Webber’s initial benchmark of 1:31.171 quickly blown away. The Toro Rossos of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne were the first under 90 seconds but Fernando Alonso was substantially quicker on his first effort, setting a 1:27.537.
The Spaniard improved again on his next run to establish a Ferrari 1-2 ahead of Felipe Massa but Romain Grosjean edged ahead of the pair of them with the only sub-1:27 lap of the session, doing so seconds before the rain fell. The Williams team had mistimed their run though with Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas not even on the board, much like Max Chilton and Lewis Hamilton.
The deluge was such that full wets were the only option when Felipe Massa returned to the track twenty minutes later but intermediates were soon the tyres to be on, as demonstrated by the sight of Bottas skating off at turn fifteen. Nico Hulkenberg almost gave Sauber a fright by running wide at turn twelve when he’d made the change but all drivers managed to bring their cars back to the garage unscathed.