Formula 1

Vettel tops final practice session as Mercedes falter

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World © Octane Photographic Ltd. Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H – Sebastian Vettel. Friday 1st July 2016, F1 Austrian GP Practice 1, Red Bull Ring, Spielberg, Austria. Digital Ref : 1598CB1D2104

Sebastian Vettel topped the times in the final practice session of the weekend, ahead of Scuderia Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, as one Mercedes AMG PETRONAS driver was unable to get to grips with tyre degradation, and the other ended the session in the barrier.

In an uncharacteristic turn of events, Nico Rosberg finished FP3 down in very last place, following a huge shunt coming out of Turn 2 on his first run on a new set of ultra-soft tyres, with twenty minutes of the session remaining, which saw him crash out of the session early.

Rosberg smashed rear-wards into the barrier coming out of Turn 2 after getting on the kerb, which appeared to cause the top wishbone of the left rear suspension to fail, causing the car to snap sideways and sending Rosberg into the barrier. The German got out of the car unscathed, but the W07 did not fair so well, sustaining bad damage to the rear wing and rear suspension, as well as the front left of the W07 and the front wing. That left the Mercedes engineers with a lot of work to do in order to have the car repaired in time for qualifying later today. Rosberg had been a tenth and a half up on the lead time already by that second corner, before his session came to an end.

Vettel set the fastest time seen so far this weekend, with a lap of 1:07.098 to take the top spot on a brand new set of the ultra-soft tyre compound, just one tenth of a second ahead of Raikkonen, to make it a Ferrari one-two. The Maranello based squad looked calm and collected as they topped the times for the majority of the session, although it was clear they were concentrating on qualifying simulations, whilst Mercedes looked to be concerned with race simulations. They also did not appear to experience as much tyre wear as other teams had sustained during FP3, which could prove crucial during Sunday’s race.

Lewis Hamilton finished the session in third place, two tenths down on the German’s lead time, but looked uneasy throughout FP3. The Brit had a huge moment at Turn 8 early in the session as he got a large amount of over steer and drifted wide into the run off area. Replays showed bad graining/blistering on the current world champions rear tyres, sustained after just eight laps of running on high fuel, on the ultra-soft tyre. After a fair amount of time spent out in the garage, Hamilton returned to track with twenty minutes of FP3 to go. His initial lap was hindered by team-mate Rosberg’s off, but during the twelve minutes remaining after the flags went green, the Brit did enough to move himself up to third place.

Red Bull Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo was fourth, in the first of the RB12’s, one tenth quicker than team-mate Max Verstappen in fifth. The Australian also looked to experience bad blistering to his tyres during the session, but nevertheless the 27-year-old, was only half a second down on the first place time set by Vettel.

Williams Martini Racing driver Valtteri Bottas was sixth, just two hundredths of a second ahead of team-mate Felipe Massa. The Oxfordshire based team always go well in Spielberg, so may have been hoping for a better result ahead of qualifying.

Sahara Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg, ended the FP3 session in eighth place, just one tenth ahead of the first of the McLaren-Honda F1 drivers Jenson Button, who in turn was just two hundredths of a second up on team-mate Fernando Alonso. After spending almost half the session in the pits, it was a great effort from the pair to both end the session in the top ten.

Sergio Perez was eleventh in the second Force India, and after such a strong weekend in Baku, the Mexican may have been hoping to show better performance here in Austria. A number of moments, particularly at Turn 8 for Perez however, left him unable to get a perfect lap together. The Mexican was ahead of Haas F1 driver Esteban Gutierrez in twelfth, two places but just one tenth ahead of team-mate Romain Grosjean . The Mexican was heard complaining over team radio “I have a bad feeling something is going to break” at one point in the session, but the issue appeared to resolve itself to complete a strong final practice for the American team.

It was also a good session for Manor Racing Team driver Pascal Wehrlein, who ended FP3 in thirteenth place, ahead of Renault Sport F1‘s Kevin Magnussen, and Daniil Kvyat, the first of the Scuderia Toro Rosso runners. The Faenza based team had a poor session, with team-mate Carlos Sainz even further down the order in eighteenth, after performing strongly in recent races.

Jolyon Palmer ended the session in seventeenth place, ahead of Sainz and the second Manor Racing Team car of Rio Haryanto. The two Sauber F1 team cars of Marcus Ericsson, who advised over team radio that the C35 was not driveable during the session, and Felipe Nasr were twentieth and twenty-first, ahead of the Mercedes of Rosberg whose session was ended early by his Turn 2 crash.

Heading into qualifying, we have an interesting situation on our hands. Having looked strong in FP1 and FP2, will Rosberg be able to make it out in time to put in a lap during qualifying? Hamilton has looked uneasy this weekend, with Ferrari looking confident and strong, especially in terms of tyre wear, and Red Bull are never very far behind. It will be all to play for in this afternoon’s session.

2016 Austrian Grand Prix – FP3 Results

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