Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel grabbed top spot in final practice for the Australian Grand Prix with a late surge on ultrasoft tyres at the end of a we-dry session at Albert Park.
With the track damp and greasy until the closing stages most teams opted to play safe and remain on intermediate tyres during the final minutes of the session, with Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen setting the pace with a lap of 1:31.680 on the green-banded tyres with just a minute to go.
Vettel, though had bolted on a set of ultrasofts and seconds later crossed the line at the end of a qualifying-style run that netted a P1 time of 1:26.067 as the flag fell. That put him more than five seconds clear of Verstappen.
The German’s team-mate Kimi Räikkönen also benefited for a late switch to slick with the Finn slotting into second place 2.4s behind Vettel in the final seconds ahead of the similarly shod Marcus Ericsson of Sauber, who took third with a time of 1:28.890s.
The session began in difficult conditions following early thunderstorms and the opening part of the hour-long session was conducted on full wet Pirelli tyres, gingerly testing the conditions.
Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg was the first to put a time on the board as the switch intermediate tyres began. He made steady improvements but his time at the top of the order was brief, with Verstappen jumping to P1 with his first lap on inters, a lap that included a nervous moment midway through the lap as the back of his star stepped out and he almost collided with the wall.
Daniel Ricciardo, who was overnight handed a three-place grid penalty for an FP3 infraction, then made it a Red Bull one-two and thereafter the times began to drop as the conditions improved.
The result was that behind Verstappen on the end-of-session timesheet, Carlos Sainz took fourth place with a late run that yielded a best time of 1:33.172, while Ricciardo dropped back to sixth place.
Valtteri Bottas was seventh for Mercedes with a time of 1:34.174. That was just five hundredths of a second clear of team-mate Lewis Hamilton who had a worrying moment when he encountered technical problems that prevented him from pulling away. A change of steering wheel righted the problem, however.
Ninth place went to Stoffel Vandoorne, with McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso tenth, some eight seconds off the pace of Vettel.
2018 Australian Grand Prix – Free Practice 3
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 15 1:26.067
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 13 1:28.499 2.432
3 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 14 1:28.890 2.823
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull 8 1:31.680 5.613
5 Carlos Sainz Jr. Renault 11 1:33.172 7.105
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 14 1:34.043 7.976
7 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 14 1:34.174 8.107
8 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 7 1:34.225 8.158
9 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 15 1:34.233 8.166
10 Fernando Alonso McLaren 13 1:34.298 8.231
11 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 16 1:34.990 8.923
12 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 16 1:35.438 9.371
13 Sergey Sirotkin Williams 16 1:35.589 9.522
14 Lance Stroll Williams 8 1:35.828 9.761
15 Romain Grosjean Haas 6 1:36.171 10.104
16 Charles Leclerc Sauber 12 1:36.448 10.381
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas 7 1:36.807 10.740
18 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 8 1:38.482 12.415
19 Esteban Ocon Force India 1
20 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 1