Vettel leads damp FP3 in Melbourne

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel has finished the final free practice session for the Australian Grand Prix fastest in damp conditions.

The session commenced on a wet circuit riddled with standing water, but conditions continually improved throughout the 60 minute hit out before it was eventually dry enough for slick tyres.

Vettel set his 1:26.067s lap on the Ultrasoft compound in the dying stages, finishing 2.4s clear of team mate Kimi Raikkonen, while a clean lap from Marcus Ericsson put the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 driver third fastest on Ultras as well.

Max Verstappen showed strong pace early on in the wet, but as with the rest of the field, did not set a lap on slicks, with his 1:31.680 on intermediates standing for fourth.

Carlos Sainz took out fifth after briefly going to the top in his Renault late in the session, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton who grabbed seventh and eighth respectively.

The top ten was rounded out by the McLarens of Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso.

Nico Hulkenberg and Romain Grosjean were the first drivers to venture out in the tricky conditions, but both only ran installation laps on the full wet compound tyres.

McLaren took a chance, and were the first to send Alonso out on the intermediate tyre for a reconnaissance lap, before a number of teams began to follow suit.

On intermediates, Hulkenberg set the first timed lap (1:40.863) of the session 20 minutes in aboard his Renault, with Vandoorne slotting into second a few moments later.

The Red Bull duo of Verstappen and Ricciardo joined each other at the top of the times, both on intermediates, with Verstappen holding fort on a 1:35.548.

With the spray letting up, the circuit began to dry rapidly as the lap times started to tumble.

Alonso, on inters, went to the top on a 1:34.298 as the session reached halfway, but before long Bottas and Hamilton took the Silver Arrows first and second quickest respectively

Late in the session, Sainz went to the top on intermediates, before Vettel, Verstappen and Raikkonen and Ericsson bettered the Spaniard’s time.

Lance Stroll only managed a handful of laps, with a gearbox issue hampering the Williams driver in the first 45 minutes of the session, while both Force Indias did not set a time.

Formula One will be back out on circuit at 1700 AEDT for Qualifying.