Nico Rosberg edged Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton by just 0.126 to take top spot in final practice at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with Ferrari’s Sebastian finishing third, just 0.147 adrift of title leader Rosberg.
Rosberg’s best time, a lap of 1:23.078, came in the first half of the one-hour session. Both Mercedes drivers were early adopters of the soft tyre during the session and Rosberg quickly strode to the top of the times with his first laps on the yello-banded rubber.
Hamilton’s early laps on the tyre were less successful and after his first run he was 0.4s adrift of his team-mate, with Vettel then third 1.1s down on the leader.
However, when the soft tyres went on again for the session’s final qualifying simulations the gaps narrowed considerably.
The Mercedes drivers were the first to emerge but Rosberg’s chance of finding more pace was quickly cut short as his car suffered a sensor issue and he was called back to the garage. He would return to the action in the final moments of the session but would not have time for another qualifying run.
As Rosberg was forced to the pits, Hamilton crossed the line for his run, but while the three-time champion was able to carve into Rosberg’s advantage it wasn’t enough to dislodge the German from the top of the timesheet. Hamilton’s lap of 1:23.204 left him 0.126 behind his team-mate.
Vettel too was on a charge and the Ferrari driver set session-fastest times across the first two sectors of the track. The four-time champion lost time in the final sector, however, and slotted into P3, just 0.147 down on Rosberg.
Team-mate Kimi Raikkonen might have put more pressure on the Mercedes drivers as he too delivered quick opening sectors. The Finn encountered traffic in the final sector however, losing time.
That allowed the Red Bull Racing pair of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo to sneak ahead with Verstappen in P4 ahead of his more experienced team-mate. The gap between the two was tiny, however, with just under a tenth of a second separating them.
Red Bull appear to hold an advantage over Williams – with Valtteri Bottas seventh – heading in to qualifying. Bottas’ team-mate Felipe Massa finished the session in P12.
Sergio Perez took eighth place for Force India, while Daniil Kvyat, who had a difficult adjustment to life back Toro Rosso yesterday, lookd mich more compfortable this morning, taking P9 well over a tenth clear of team-mate Carlos Sainz, who finished in P13. Fernando Alonso rounded out the top ten for McLaren.
2016 Spanish Grand Prix – Free Practice 3
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:23.078 15
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:23.204 +0.126 11
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:23.225 +0.147 16
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:23.719 +0.641 10
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:23.816 +0.738 9
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:24.110 +1.032 13
7 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:24.356 +1.278 14
8 Sergio Perez Force India 1:24.472 +1.394 15
9 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:24.553 +1.475 13
10 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:24.555 +1.477 13
11 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:24.585 +1.507 15
12 Felipe Massa Williams 1:24.621 +1.543 15
13 Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso 1:24.695 +1.617 21
14 Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team 1:24.981 +1.903 13
15 Jenson Button McLaren 1:25.051 +1.973 13
16 Kevin Magnussen Renault F1 Team 1:25.100 +2.022 12
17 Esteban Gutierrez Haas F1 Team 1:25.130 +2.052 17
18 Jolyon Palmer Renault F1 Team 1:25.376 +2.298 13
19 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:25.383 +2.305 22
20 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:25.401 +2.323 24
21 Pascal Wehrlein Manor Racing 1:26.097 +3.019 13
22 Rio Haryanto Manor Racing 1:26.251 +3.173 19