MELBOURNE: Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg went one-two in final practice ahead of Saturday’s (Sunday in Manila) qualifying for the season-opening Australian Formula One Grand Prix.
In sizzling times on supersoft tires on a dry track following morning rain, world champion Hamilton topped the charts for a third straight practice session in one minute 25.624 seconds.
His fastest lap was 0.7-second quicker than his pole time in last year’s Melbourne race, which he won.
Rosberg was second quickest in 1:25.800 and encouragingly for title rivals Ferrari, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel also went under 1:26 with his 1:25.852, some 0.228-second down on Hamilton’s time.
Mercedes are well placed for the qualifying later on Saturday where the new format will see drivers eliminated one by one.
The German team has ruled Formula One for two years, winning 32 of the 38 races.
Rosberg had early problems when he overran Turn 13 and had to reverse onto the track in another mishap after hitting a wall in Friday’s (Saturday in Manila) second practice.
The Ferraris were having a better time with Kimi Raikkonen hitting the top ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and team-mate Vettel midway through the session.
Rosberg, who switched to soft tires on his Mercedes in the drying track conditions, swept to the top with 1:26.149 with 20 minutes left in the session.
Vettel reclaimed the top time on his 16th lap in 1:25.852 in a dramatic improvement of his fortunes from Friday’s practice.
The German’s time was a half-second faster than the 2015 race pole time, although on supersoft tires, but also indicating the improvement in Ferrari heading into the first race of the season.
Hamilton put in a hot 21st lap to sweep to the top of the charts with a best time of 1:25.624 ahead of Rosberg and the Ferrari pair, Vettel and Raikkonen.
Indonesian rookie Rio Haryanto had problems even before hitting the track when he collided with the Haas driver Romain Grosjean in the pit lane.
The two cars were forced back into the garage for repairs.
Grosjean’s car was kept in his garage for half the session before he emerged and finished 19th, while Haryanto was in 22nd and last spot, some 3.648 seconds down on Hamilton’s leading time.