Sebastian Vettel postest the quickest lap of final practice for the Austrian Grand Prix as Nico Rosberg crashed out of the session with a rear-suspension failure.
Vettel’s best lap came in the final 10 minutes of the session, the German reclaiming P1 from team-mate Kimi Raikkonen with a time of 1:07.098 at the end of a session dominated by Mercedes.
Early in the session championship leader Nico Rosberg had focused on longer runs on the ultrasoft tyre, posting 14 laps on the purple-banded Pirelli in the opening half of the session.
The German bolted on a new set of ultrasofts with 20 minutes left in the session in pursuit of a boost from the bottom half of the timesheet but his effort was ended as he suffered a rear-left suspension failure at the start of the lap. The breakage pitched Rosberg into the barriers and out of the session. His Mercedes shipped significant rea-end damage and in the immediate aftermath of the session, team boss Toto Wolff revealed that the German’s car will need a gearbox change ahead of qualifying, a switch that brings with it a five-place gearbox penalty.
Vettel is already set to take such a penalty, with Ferrari this morning saying it had switched out the existing unit due to reliability concerns.
The penalty will be a blow for Vettel’s race chances, though the Ferrari driver this morning benefited from track temperatures the edged towards 50˚C, while Mercedes struggled with severe tyre degradation in the heat.
The 14 laps Rosberg managed to eke out of his first set of new ultrasofts were in stark contrast to Hamilton who managed just eight before telling his team he was in danger of going off track unless his pitted for replacement tyres.
It mean that in the first half of the session Ferrari controlled the top two places ion the timesheet, firstly with Vettel and latterly with Raikkonen as the Finn claimed provisional P1 with a time of 1:07.234.
Behind them, before Rosberg’s crash, were the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. Williams’ Valtteri Bottas might have climbed above Verstappen as he set then quickest time for the first two sectors but the Finn outbraked himself into the final corner and spun off to remain in P5.
Rosberg’s crash brought out immediate red flags and the session was halted for almost 10 minutes as the German’s car and was recovered the debris from the incident cleared.
When the session resumed Vettel improved to reclaim top spot from Raikkonen. Hamilton took on a new set of ultrasofts and immediately jumped for the bottom third of the order to P4 with a time of 1:07.754. He then improved on that by more than four tenths of a second to take P3, 0.210 adrift of Vettel.
With Vettel first ahead of Raikkonen Hamilton and the two Red Bulls, sixth place went to Bottas who finished 0.017s ahead of team-mate Felipe Massa. Nico Hulkenberg was eighth for Force India ahead to the McLarens of Jenson Button and 10th-placed Fernando Alonso, who suffered rear wing damage when he ran over the kerbs. There were problems too for Carlos Sainz, who posted just 11 laps in the session.
2016 Austrian Grand Prix – Free Practice 3
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:07.098 20
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:07.234 26
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:07.308 20
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:07.639 22
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:07.761 22
6 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:07.814 23
7 Felipe Massa Williams 1:07.831 27
8 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:08.285 23
9 Jenson Button McLaren 1:08.304 19
10 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:08.327 17
11 Sergio Perez Force India 1:08.442 26
12 Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1:08.475 22
13 Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1:08.534 29
14 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:08.550 21
15 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:08.569 31
16 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:08.786 32
17 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:08.939 27
18 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:09.008 11
19 Rio Haryanto Manor 1:09.116 28
20 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:09.137 25
21 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:09.557 20
22 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:10.959 16