Sebastian Vettel was in impressive form in final practice for the Chinese Grand Prix, taking charge of proceedings by almost half a second from Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonwn.
It was a troubled session for Mercedes, with Valtteri Bottas only managing third fastest. And having led both sessions on Friday, Lewis Hamilton had a scruffy time on Saturday and was only fifth fastest behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Verstappen’s team mate Daniel Ricciardo was largely sidelined and managed only four laps in the session, with major engine issues hitting the RB14.
Chinese Grand Prix – Free Practice 3
Free practice 3 got underway in chilly conditions, with grey and overcast skies threatening a continuation of the light rain that had effectively curtailed FP2 the previous day. The kerbs and astroturf on the run-offs were looking treacherously saturated with overnight precipitation.
Kimi Raikkonen set the first time of the day, but the Ferrari’s lap was affected by running up behind the Haas of Kevin Magnussen. The Finn’s second lap was also compromised when he ran deep into the final hairpin, which allowed Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg to take early control of the timing screens.
Ferrari soon shook off their early morning cobwebs and moved ahead of the field. Sebastian Vettel took charge with a lap of 1:33.689s on ultrasoft tyres, over a second faster than Raikkonen’s latest.
When Mercedes joined the fray on soft tyres, neither Valtteri Bottas nor Lewis Hamilton were able to match or even get close to Vettel’s benchmark. Hamilton was looking particularly untidy, locking up, running off and spinning on multiple occasions during his runs.
Raikkonen was able to improve, and went to the top with a time of 1:33.469s which was two tenths faster than his team mate. However, an immediate response from Vettel put the four-time champion back in control with a time of 1:33.018s, fully 0.451s faster than anyone else.
Neither Mercedes driver seemed to find the grip or pace they wanted when they finally switched to the ultrasoft tyres for their final runs. Bottas ended the session a full 0.743s off Vettel’s target time, while Hamilton was over a second slower than his title rival.
Red Bull bided their time before Max Verstappen put in a strong lap to go fourth fastest ahead of Hamilton. However, not all was well for the Dutch driver who reported over the team radio that “every time I push to the limiter I lose speed”.
His team mate Daniel Ricciardo had been problems right from the start. His car began the session in the garage and up on stands as the engineers worked feverishly checking the gearbox. He eventually made it out, but completed only four laps before an apparent turbocharger failure sidelined him for the rest of the morning.