Nico Rosberg made it three sessions from three as he added top spot in final practice for the Japanese Grand Prix to the fastest times he set in both Friday sessions.
The championship leader finished FP3 three tenths of a second clear of Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo as Lewis Hamilton ended the session in seventh place after failing to get in a clean lap in the final stages on a crowded track.
Rain overnight and in the morning left the Suzuka circuit greasy and low on grip and the first half of the early afternoon session was a low-key affair. After a flurry of installation laps taken on a mix of intermediate and wet tyres, the first half of the session saw little action.
Eventually Rosberg and Hamilton emerged to turn some laps on the medium tyres with Rosberg holding sway on the white-banded Pirelli compound. Rosberg’s best medium tyre time was a 1:33.230, just five hundredths of a second ahead of Hamilton. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was third on medium tyres, 0.360 behind Rosberg, while Ricciardo was fourth at this stage, also on medium tyres.
Just shy of three-quarters of the way through the session Williams’ Valtteri Bottas became the first driver to make a move to soft tyres and he immediately claimed P7. Haas’ Estaban Gutierrez then took P6 and that performance sparked a rush to get out on track.
As a result it was difficult for driver to find the space to get in a clean run. Rosberg, the first of the likely front runners to take to track on softs, managed it and he lowered the P1 benchmark to 1:32.092. Hamilton, though, had a slow second sector on his second attempt at a flying lap and he returned to the garage without getting in a clean quali sim.
Ricciardo, meanwhile, managed to find clear air and he claimed second place in the session with a time of 1:32.394, 0.302 behind Rosberg.
Sebastian Vettel was third, despite the Ferrari driver also being forced to abandoning his first flyer when he got stuck behind a Renault as he wound up for the lap.
Fourth place went to Max Verstappen in the second Red Bull, though he too was vocal in complaining about the traffic he encountered. Fifth-placed Kimi Raikkonen, the last man to get within a second of Rosberg, also had his lap hampered by a slower Renault.
Felipe Massa took sixth place for Williams ahead of Hamilton, while a good session for Renault saw Jolyon Palmer take eighth place ahead Kevin Magnussen in ninth. Nico Hulkenberg was tenth for Force India.
2016 Japanese Grand Prix – Free Practice 3
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:32.092 14
2 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:32.394 10
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:32.731 13
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:32.784 9
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:33.011 12
6 Felipe Massa Williams 1:33.271 13
7 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33.284 12
8 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:33.639 13
9 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:33.639 10
10 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:33.646 11
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:33.714 12
12 Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1:33.787 16
13 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:33.865 9
14 Sergio Perez Force India 1:33.921 11
15 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:34.037 12
16 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:34.272 13
17 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:34.388 12
18 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:34.544 13
19 Jenson Button McLaren 1:34.548 11
20 Esteban Ocon Manor 1:35.230 13
21 Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1:37.256 10
22 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:56.323 3