Vettel leaps to the front as Ferrari take charge of final practice

Chinese Grand Prix -Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari
© XPB 

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

1Sebastian VettelFerrari1:33.018s14
2Kimi RäikkönenFerrari1:33.469s+ 0.451s21
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1:33.761s+ 0.743s16
4Max VerstappenRed Bull1:33.969s+ 0.951s14
5Lewis HamiltonMercedes1:34.057s+ 1.039s14
6Kevin MagnussenHaas1:34.329s+ 1.311s25
7Sergio PérezForce India1:34.445s+ 1.427s14
8Esteban OconForce India1:34.456s+ 1.438s16
9Carlos SainzRenault1:34.582s+ 1.564s20
10Sergey SirotkinWilliams1:34.741s+ 1.723s13
11Nico HülkenbergRenault1:34.841s+ 1.823s16
12Fernando AlonsoMcLaren1:34.851s+ 1.833s13
13Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren1:34.977s+ 1.959s16
14Brendon HartleyToro Rosso1:34.991s+ 1.973s20
15Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1:35.061s+ 2.043s4
16Pierre GaslyToro Rosso1:35.079s+ 2.061s16
17Lance StrollWilliams1:35.375s+ 2.357s16
18Charles LeclercSauber1:35.497s+ 2.479s14
19Marcus EricssonSauber1:35.679s+ 2.661s13
20Romain GrosjeanHaas1:35.756s+ 2.738s6

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.

Shanghai - China Daniel Ricciardo

© WRI2

A virtual safety car was deployed to allow marshalls to recover the stricken car from where Ricciardo had been forced to park up in the final sector. Other drivers were warned to be alert for oil on the track. Red Bull now face a race against time to get him ready for qualifying.

"I think we've got a suspected turbo failure," team principal Christian Horner told Sky Sports F1. "That is what the analysis is at the moment ... Whether it has damaged the combustion engine, only time will tell."

Magnussen had a strong morning, the Haas ending FP3 best of the rest in sixth place ahead of the two Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon which had also found some solid form overnight. Carlos Sainz was ninth fastest and his team mate Hulkenberg 11th, the Renault pair straddling the Williams of Sergey Sirotkin which was looking promisingly quick in Shanghai.

Fernando Alonso was 12th fastest, but McLaren had early issues with Stoffel Vandoorne's car. The team was unable to pick up telemetry from the MCL33. He was recalled to the garage for a fix, and went on to complete 16 laps with a best time of 1:34.977s putting him 13th fastest.

Haas also had problems with the brake-by-wire system on Romain Grosjean's car. He completed only six laps in the one-hour session and was slowest of the 20 runners.

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