Sebastian Vettel set the fastest time of final practice in Bahrain ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen as Ferrari took the fight to Mercedes ahead of qualifying at the Sakhir Circuit.
With just over 10 minutes left on the clock, the Mercedes drivers took to the track on the red-banded supersoft tyre for their qualifying runs. Nico Rosberg immediately jumped to P1 with a lap of 1:32.104, with Lewis Hamilton quickly slotting into P2 with a lap just five hundredths of a second adrift of the Australian Grand Prix winner.
It looked like a repeat of a familiar pattern but just two minutes later Kimi Raikkonen shattered that notion as his supersoft run yielded a P1 time of 1:31.723, almost four tenths clear of Rosberg’s benchmark.
There was more to come from Ferrari, too, as Vettel then set off on his run. With session-best times in sectors one and three, the four-time champion just edged his team-mate to top spot, finishing just four hundredths of a second clear of Raikkonen. Vettel’s lap time of 1:31.683 was good enough to put him 0.421 clear of Rosberg.
The result will give Ferrari hope of running Mercedes close in qualifying, though Vettel’s time in final practice was still 0.6s off the P1 pace set by Rosberg in FP2. FP3 was also run in considerably higher temperatures than yesterday’s sessions, a trait that suited Ferrari last year. Qualifying, though, will be run in considerably cooler temperatures tonight, which could swing the pendulum back in favour of the Silver Arrows.
Behind the Ferraris and Mercedes, fifth place went to Williams Valtteri Bottas, while Romain Grosjean gave new squad Haas hope of a good qualifying with a surprise sixth place. The Frenchman, who handed the team points on its debut in Australia a fortnight ago, set a time of 1:33.082 to eclipse Red Bull Racing’s Daniil Kvyat, Haas team-mate Esteban Gutierrez, the second Williams of Felipe Massa and the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo, who set his best time on the supersoft tyre in the first half of the session.
Elsewhere, both Toro Rosso and Force India chose not to set times on supersoft tyres, a choice matched by Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein.
McLaren stand-in Stoffel Vandoorne had a troubled session. The Belgian’s car suffered and oil leak and he was garage-bound for much of the session. He recovered late on to set the 14th fastest time, just 0.04s adrift of team-mate Jenson Button.
Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, too, encountered difficulties. He ended the session with a rear puncture, which left him limping back to the pits in P20 ahead of the Manor cars.
2016 Bahrain Grand Prix – Free Practice 3
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:31.683 22
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:31.723 13
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:32.104 18
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:32.160 14
5 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:32.675 18
6 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:33.082 14
7 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull Racing 1:33.113 10
8 Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1:33.337 14
9 Felipe Massa Williams 1:33.363 18
10 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:33.519 20
11 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:33.569 16
12 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:33.617 9
13 Jenson Button McLaren 1:33.704 12
14 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1:33.744 11
15 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:33.778 20
16 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:34.003 20
17 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:34.013 15
18 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:34.128 16
19 Sergio Perez Force India 1:34.281 15
20 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:34.424 9
21 Rio Haryanto Manor 1:35.546 15
22 Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1:35.724 16