Lewis Hamilton made it a clean sweep in practice for the Japanese Grand Prix, taking top spot in FP3 at Suzuka, just over a tenth of a second ahead of Sebastian Vettel, in a session brought to an early end when Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg crashed out.
Hulkenberg, sweeping through the Esses on a qualifying run, took much kerb on a track still damp from an earlier rain show and spun. He went into the barriers on the right-hand side of the track, causing substantial damage to the rear of his car. The session was red-flagged three minutes from time and eventually the clock ran out on any further running leaving Hamilton at the top of the order with a time of 1:29.599, 0.116 ahead of Vettel.
Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkonen led the way in the early part of the session, with his lap of 1:30.054 keeping teammate Vettel at bay by a tenth of a second. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas was third, half a second off Räikkönen’s pace, with the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Riccirado fourth and fifth respectively.
As light rain began to fall across Suzuka, Hamilton was left rooted to the bottom of the order thanks to a lock-up at the final chicane that forced him to abandon his second flying lap after he had earlier backed out of his first.
The rainfall then intensified with Vettel reporting that conditions were swiftly worsening in Turns 13 and 14. All drivers returned to the pit lane and there followed a period of quiet as teams waited for conditions to improve.
Bottas broke the silence soon after the half way mark, taking to the track on a set of supersoft tyres. The Finn reported that the track “feels OK, it’s just the kerbs” and the message saw a slew of drivers take to the track to test the conditions.
With the surface rapidly improving the field eventually went for qualifying runs and Vettel quickly eclipsed his team-mate to take top spot with a lap of 1:29.715. Hamilton was running quicker though and after setting a quickest first sector the Briton vaulted from P20 to P1 despite losing time in the middle and final sector.
The moves dropped Räikkönen to third, ahead of Verstappen and Bottas. Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth in the second Red Bull. .
A late quali simulation allowed Racing Point Force India’s Esteban Ocon to maintain the grip he had on P7 in the first two practice sessions and he finished almost four tenths of a second ahead of eighth-placed team-mate Sergio Perez. Renautl’s Carlos Sainz and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top 10 order.
2018 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix – Free Practice 3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:29.599 13
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:29.715 0.116 14
3 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:30.054 0.455 13
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:30.304 0.705 13
5 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:30.422 0.823 13
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:30.474 0.875 10
7 Esteban Ocon Racing Point Force India 1:31.088 1.489 12
8 Sergio Pérez Racing Point Force India 1:31.483 1.884 12
9 Carlos Sainz Renault 1:31.513 1.914 14
10 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:31.521 1.922 13
11 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:31.636 2.037 14
12 Charles Leclerc Sauber 1:31.760 2.161 14
13 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 1:32.030 2.431 13
14 Lance Stroll Williams 1:32.201 2.602 14
15 Nico Hülkenberg Renault 1:32.224 2.625 12
16 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:32.442 2.843 10
17 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:32.608 3.009 14
18 Sergey Sirotkin Williams 1:32.631 3.032 14
19 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1:33.034 3.435 13
20 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1:33.105 3.506 10