Lewis Hamilton’s dominance of the Grand Prix of Europe timesheets continued as the Mercedes driver set the fastest time of final practice at the Baku Street Circuit, eclipsing team-mate Nico Rosberg by just over two tenths of a second.
The defending champion’s march to the top of the FP3 timesheet wasn’t without issue, however. The Briton struggled for a clean lap in the final minutes of the session and was forced to back out of a first flyer when he made a mistake at Turn 1 and ran wide.
The opening sector of his next flyer was much better, however, as he set a session-best time of 46.3. Personal bests through the next two then pushed him ahead of Rosberg by 0.258.
The session then ended dramatically when Sergio Perez hit the wall hard at Turn 15. The Force India driver’s crash was a carbon copy of Daniel Ricciardo’s from FP1 and the result was the same, a wrecked rear-right corner. Perez’s, however, came just two hours before the start of qualifying, leaving his team with a race against time to get the car ready for the crucial grid-decider.
The Force India’s have been the best placed of the non-works Mercedes-powered cars so far this weekend, with Perez third in FP2, taking over from Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and it was so again in FP3 with third place going to Nico Hulkenberg, who finished 1.188s down on Hamilton’s benchmark.
Bottas might have had a say in that but as he returned to his garage after his installation lap at the beginning of the session the Finn’s car kicked up a loose drain cover in pit lane, which caused damage to his car’s right side pod. The damage was such that he failed to take to the track for the remainder of the session.
It was a disappointing session for Bottas’ Williams team-mate Felipe Massa, too. The Brazilian also clipped the barrier during the session but while he sustained no damage he failed to rise above P14.
With Hulkenberg third, fourth place went to Ricciardo. Despite Red Bull expecting to be off the pace here due to a power deficit to Mercedes, the Australian hauled his RB12 to 1.2s behind Hamilton and just eight hundredths of a second adrift of Hulkenberg.
Sebastian Vettel took fifth place as Ferrari worked through a strangely muted session. The German, and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, languished near the foot of the order for much of the session before Vettel’s qualifying run yielded a best time of 1:45.630, just one hundredth of a second behind Ricciardo.
Raikkonen, meanwhile, eventually clambered from P21 to 15th and then 10th at the end of the session, despite a spell in the garage after he reported that he had lost power midway through the session.
Perez took sixth place ahead of the second Red Bull of Max Verstappen, McLaren’s Jenson Button and ninth-placed Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso.
2016 Grand Prix of Europe – Free Practice 3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:44.352 17
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:44.610 22
3 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:45.450 18
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:45.620 13
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:45.630 20
6 Sergio Perez Force India 1:45.735 17
7 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:45.901 14
8 Jenson Button McLaren 1:45.954 17
9 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:45.981 19
10 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:46.024 16
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:46.131 16
12 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:46.190 17
13 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:46.361 21
14 Felipe Massa Williams 1:46.510 20
15 Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1:46.670 21
16 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:47.024 16
17 Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1:47.100 19
18 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:47.158 18
19 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:47.328 14
20 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:47.379 18
21 Rio Haryanto Manor 1:47.556 18
22 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1