Lewis Hamilton continued to set a blistering pace ahead of qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix, eclipsing Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen by almost half a second and beating championship leader Nico Rosberg by more than six tenths of a second.
The first portion of the session was dominated by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, with the Australian driver setting an early marker of 1:36.483 on medium tyres.
However, until the half hour mark approached neither Mercedes driver had been out on track and when Hamilton and Rosberg eventually appeared, on medium tyres, they quickly made an impression with Hamilton slotting into P2 behind then fastest man Sergio Perez, who was on softs. Rosberg then bypassed the Mexican with a time of 1:36.361 before Hamilton found more pace to take to spot.
Ricciardo then switched to softs for his performance run, a step that allowed him to retake P1 with a time of 1:35.461.
Verstappen, meanwhile, spent much of the first half of the session in the garage while work was carried out on his car. When he did enter the fray, just after the half way point, he swiftly made his way to P3 on medium tyres with a time of 1:36.109, six tenths of Ricciardo’s soft-tyre time.
The Mercedes drivers were also preparing for their quali sims, however, and Rosberg was soon back in control with a lap of 1:35.293.
Behind him Hamilton was putting in blistering sector times and the defending champion reclaimed P1 with a lap of 1:34.434, just two tenths of a second off the lap record set by Juan Pablo Montoya in 2004. He was also just under 0.9s ahead of Rosberg.
Verstappen, meanwhile, was one of the last to do a qualifying style run. When it did arrive it was worth the wait, with the young Dutchman getting to within half a second of Hamilton to steal P2 from Rosberg, who eventually managed to close his gap to Hamilton to 0.619s.
Behind the German Kimi Raikkonen was fourth for Ferrari, with team-mate Sebastian Vettel fifth. Both were over seven tenths of a second adrift of Hamilton.
Ricciardo, who spent the last quarter of the session testing the durability of the soft tyres, ended the session in sixth place ahead of Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg.
Williams improved from an slow start to the weekend, with Valtteri Bottas eighth and just 0.1s behind Hulkenberg.
Carlos Sainz was ninth of Toro Rosso, while Felipe Massa was tenth for Williams ahead of the second Force India car of Sergio Perez.
2016 Malaysian Grand Prix – Free Practice 3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:34.434 16
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:34.879 14
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:35.053 16
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:35.150 15
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:35.170 14
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:35.461 22
7 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:35.776 16
8 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:35.902 17
9 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:36.222 18
10 Felipe Massa Williams 1:36.227 20
11 Sergio Perez Force India 1:36.259 15
12 Jenson Button McLaren 1:36.363 11
13 Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1:36.553 14
14 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:36.604 20
15 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:36.687 15
16 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:36.741 19
17 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:36.752 20
18 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:36.765 19
19 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:37.106 18
20 Esteban Ocon Manor 1:37.961 17
21 Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1:38.089 13
22 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:41.199 15