Nico Rosberg has dominated the final practice session ahead of qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, which starts later tonight at 2am ET on NBCSN and Live Extra.
The German driver posted a fastest time of 1:29.375, comfortably finishing over 1.3 seconds quicker than second-placed Jenson Button whilst Fernando Alonso rounded out the top three. Lewis Hamilton finished fourth, but the Briton failed to post a fast lap time on the option tire, suggesting that Mercedes is still the team to beat heading into the rest of the race weekend.
When the final practice session got underway, the big question was whether or not the teams would send their cars out and risk a failure ahead of qualifying. Both Marussia and Lotus broke their curfews to work on the car overnight, whilst Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson needed to complete some running or he may not have been permitted to start the race on Sunday.
With ten minutes of the session gone, Esteban Gutierrez reported a problem on his Sauber with his gearbox, forcing him to crawl back to the pits at low speed. Kevin Magnussen was the first driver to set a truly representative time of 1:33.130, but the Danish rookie did take a trip through the gravel at turn nine as he pushed his McLaren to the limit. He was soon toppled by fellow youngster Daniil Kvyat by around half a second. Marcus Ericsson, having failed to post a timed lap all weekend, finally got out on track for Caterham, although he did stay at the bottom of the timesheets.
At the front, normal service from Friday was resumed as Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton went first and second for Mercedes with Felipe Massa a few tenths off in fourth place. However, Hamilton soon established his inter-team dominance to move six-tenths clear of Rosberg. At the halfway point in the session, seven of the top eight times had been set by Mercedes-powered cars, whilst Ferrari had not emerged from the pits, nor had defending world champion Sebastian Vettel.
When the German driver did come out on track, he immediately found some pace and moved up into fourth place with teammate Daniel Ricciardo slotting into P6. Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso also chose to bide their time and finally come out at the halfway point in the session, and both drivers moved up into the top ten with their lap-times.
With twenty minutes to go, Nico Hulkenberg made a huge improvement on his previous best to move within one-tenth of Hamilton at the top of the table, having switched to the soft option tire. Compatriot Nico Rosberg followed his example, and moved 1.5 seconds clear of teammate Lewis Hamilton. Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso moved up into the top three on the soft tire, but couldn’t come close to Rosberg’s lap.
Once again, the session ended with a Lotus parked up at the side of the road as Pastor Maldonado’s car came to a halt at the penultimate corner, suggesting that the team’s problems are dire. Having hit problems earlier on, Sauber changed the gearbox in Gutierrez’s Sauber, resulting in a five place gird penalty, whilst Valtteri Bottas and Romain Grosjean failed to emerge from the pits.