Reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton took his Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS machine to the top of the standings in the final practice session ahead of this evenings qualifying session at the Bahrain International Circuit.
The Briton ended the session just 0.069s faster than the Scuderia Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, and with their respective team-mates Nico Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen in close proximity behind, the battle for pole position in Bahrain this evening could be good.
Mercedes made a point on Friday to concentrate on its qualifying simulation runs during the second, much later practice session that would be more representative of the conditions that could be seen in qualifying, but the team did run qualifying-style simulations during FP3, and ultimately came out on top.
Raikkonen had edged to the top of the standings early in the session when teams and drivers used the medium Pirelli tyres, but it was Hamilton and Mercedes who came to the top when the soft Pirelli tyres began to get their usage.
Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa were the only other drivers to get with one second of the pace of Hamilton up front, with the two Williams Martini Racing drivers ending the session 0.794s and 0.872s adrift respectively.
Pastor Maldonado was seventh in the leading Lotus, but the Venezuelan was over 1.7 seconds slower than the outright pace of the leaders. But Maldonado was a lot faster than team-mate Romain Grosjean, who seems to have lost his way with the set-up of his car, ending up eighteenth fastest, slower than everyone bar the two Manor F1 drivers of Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi.
It was another difficult session for the Infiniti Red Bull Racing team, with Daniel Ricciardo ending eighth fastest, running only eight laps, with his sole medium tyre run seeing him running wide before finally getting a representative lap time on the soft tyre with a handful of minutes of the session remaining.
At least he had a better session than team-mate Daniil Kvyat, who spun into one of the few gravel traps dotted around the track at turn four, bringing out the red flag to allow marshals to recover the car. The Russian was able to get back on track with just over four minutes remaining, with his sole qualifying simulation run seeing him set the twelfth fastest time.
Nico Hulkenberg finished the session in an encouraging ninth position for the Sahara Force India team, and was over half a second faster than team-mate Sergio Perez, who could only languish down in fifteenth position.
Felipe Nasr continued his strong weekend with the tenth fastest time in final practice for Sauber, and was just under two tenths of a second faster than team-mate Marcus Ericsson, who ended up thirteenth.
Jenson Button was eleventh quickest for the McLaren-Honda team, 1.889s down on the pace of Hamilton at the top, but 0.411s faster than Fernando Alonso, who ended the session sixteenth.
It was a difficult session however for the Scuderia Toro Rosso drivers, with both Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr struggling for grip and balance, ending the session fourteenth and seventeenth respectively.
Bahrain Grand Prix Free Practice 3 Times
|8||3||Daniel Ricciardo||AUS||Red Bull-Renault||1m36.335s|
|9||27||Nico Hulkenberg||GER||Force India-Mercedes||1m36.421s|
|12||26||Daniil Kvyat||RUS||Red Bull-Renault||1m36.548s|
|14||33||Max Verstappen||NED||Toro Rosso-Renault||1m36.684s|
|15||11||Sergio Perez||MEX||Force India-Mercedes||1m36.727s|
|17||55||Carlos Sainz Jr||ESP||Toro Rosso-Renault||1m36.979s|