Nico Rosberg took over at the top of the Interlagos timesheets, beating Friday’s fastest man Lewis Hamilton by less than one tenths of a second in this morning’s final practice session ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Hamilton held sway over his title-chasing team-mate in both Friday sessions, initially by two tenths of a second and then by just three hundreds of a second but thius morning, markedly changed conditions, Rosberg gained the upper hand, though by 0.093s.
Friday warm sunshine gave way to rain this morning and by the time the session started conditions were grey and overcast and the track temperature was 30˚C down on yesterday.
In a quiet opening half to the session a number of drivers tested the conditions on full wet Pirelli tyres before Hamilton branded the conditions suitable for slicks. Despite a couple of off-track moments the Briton quickly proved the hypothesis by setting a time of 1:16.980. It was a full five seconds off yesterday morning’s pace but when Williams’ Valtteri Bottas took almost two seconds out of that time with his first flyer then the pattern was clear. The greasy track was drying, grip was returning and the times would tumble.
In the first half hour it was Ferrari who ran quickest with Kimi Raikkonen setting a P1 time of 1:12.530 to sit just behind his team-mate. During this period Mercedes were content to test the durability of the soft tyre in cooler conditions and Rosberg and Hamilton spent the early session rooted in P18 and P19 respectively.
It was a similar story for Red Bull Racing’s drivers, with Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo spending the first part of the session on medium tyres. Their times on the white-banded rubber were good enough, however, for third and fourth place respectively.
It was Ricciardo who first made the move to soft rubber for a qualifying sim and with just over 15 minutes left in the session the Australian jumped to the top of the timesheet with a lap of 1:12.287. He improved on the first sector of his next lap but then backed out of pushing in the final two.
Verstappen then briefly took top spot with a lap of 1:12.077 before Rosberg put in a time of 1:11.787 with his first flyer. His next would lower the benchmark slightly with a time of 1:11.740.
That was too rich for Hamilton who managed a best time of 1:11.833 to take P2, just under a tenth behind his team-mate.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen then popped to steal P3 from Verstappen. The Finn’s status as best of the rest was short-lived, however, as in the final moments of the hour Vettel stole in ahead of his team-mate by 0.068s.
With the Red Bull drivers in P5 and P6, seventh place went to Bottas. Renault’s Jolyon Palmer was a surprise eighth ahead of the second Williams of Felipe Massa and the final top 10 place went to McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
The Spaniard’s session looked in doubt as, after an overnight engine change, a gearbox problem also surfaced ahead of FP3. It suggested that Alonso might be heading for a grid penalty if it needed replacing but eventually McLaren resolved the issue and Alonso joined the session. Team-mate Jenson Button also had an overnight power unit change and he too had a less than perfect session, only managing nine laps.
There were problems elsewhere too. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat had a stop-start session as he reported issues with his car but while the Russian was able to complete 13 laps over at Sauber Marcus Ericsson managed a single installation lap before heading back to the Swiss outfit’s garage where they later reported that his car would require and engine change before qualifying.
2016 Brazilian Grand Prix – Free Practice 3
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:11.740 19
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:11.833 21
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:11.959 14
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:12.027 16
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:12.077 19
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:12.287 21
7 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:12.614 27
8 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:12.968 19
9 Felipe Massa Williams 1:12.990 26
10 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:13.002 12
11 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:13.203 14
12 Sergio Perez Force India 1:13.231 19
13 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:13.255 15
14 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:13.293 20
15 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:13.344 15
16 Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1:13.596 16
17 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:13.609 13
18 Jenson Button McLaren 1:13.750 9
19 Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1:13.972 20
20 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:13.992 14
21 Esteban Ocon Manor 1:14.222 21
22 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1