Nico Rosberg has closed out the final practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix as the fastest driver as teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton crashed out late on, leaving his mechanics with plenty of work to do ahead of qualifying later today.
Just one hour after Red Bull announced that Sebastian Vettel would be leaving the team at the end of the season, the drivers headed out on track with more than just FP3 on their mind given the far-reaching implications of his decision.
Rosberg is one of the few drivers not to be affected by his departure, though, and he duly put in a fine display in FP3 to finish as the fastest driver with a lap of 1:33.228, finishing just under one second clear of Lewis Hamilton.
The Briton saw his session come to an early end when he went straight on at the first corner, crashing into the wall. Although it was not a severe crash, it is likely to leave the Mercedes team a race against time to get his car ready for qualifying (live on NBCSN from 1am ET).
Fernando Alonso – the man Vettel is set to replace at Ferrari – finished third in the final session, finishing just two-tenths shy of Hamilton’s time and ahead of constructors’ championship rivals Williams, whose drivers – Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas – finished fourth and fifth.
Vettel became the centre of attention both on and off track when his engine failed, forcing him to park his car up early on. He finished down in 15th place.
Following Hamilton’s crash, the pressure will be on for Mercedes to get his car fixed ahead of qualifying, which is set to be another straight fight between the Briton and Rosberg for pole position.
You can watch qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 1am ET.