Australian GP P3: Lewis Hamilton edges out Rosberg and Vettel
Vettel and Ferrari just two tenths behind Mercedes despite Silver Arrows running the supersoft tyres for the first time in 2016; Qualifying starts at 6am live on Sky Sports F1
By James Galloway in Melbourne
Last Updated: 19/03/16 7:44am
Lewis Hamilton will go into 2016's first battle for pole position on the back of a hat-trick of fastest practice times as Mercedes edged out Ferrari in Practice Three at the Australian GP.
The opening day of the new season had proved a damp squib with intermittent rain in Melbourne scuppering attempts to gauge how the pecking order stood at the first race.
However, further rain on Saturday morning had cleared by the time P3 took place in mid-afternoon, ensuring a particularly busy hour-long session as teams aimed to make up for lost track time.
And Hamilton, after setting the pace in both Friday's disrupted sessions, remained on top with his best lap on supersoft tyres 0.176 seconds quicker than team-mate Nico Rosberg's effort.
However, despite appearing to remain F1's immovable object, Mercedes' advantage on the supersofts was only 0.228s over rivals Ferrari as Sebastian Vettel wound up a close third. The world champions, however, had earlier enjoyed a 0.7s advantage on the softs, the compound which will likely be used most often in Sunday's race.
"It feels and looks a little bit closer than last year," said Sky F1 commentator David Croft.
Kimi Raikkonen fared less well in the other Ferrari in P3, winding up 0.8s adrift of the pace in fifth, with the Finn also outpaced by the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz.
The Red Bull junior team, who are running Ferrari's 2015 engines, are being tipped to challenge for the leading midfield positions in the season's early rounds and Max Verstappen backed up Sainz's fourth-fastest time with sixth place.
Toro Rosso lapped half a second quicker than the main Red Bull team, with local favourite Daniel Ricciardo slipping to eighth behind the lead Williams of Valtteri Bottas having led the timesheet in the early stages.
McLaren enjoyed an encouraging session, with Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button just finishing outside the top 10. Neither former world champions featured in the final stage of qualifying last year - a Q3 phase which has been cut from 10 to eight cars for 2016 - but could be in line for surprisingly competitive weekend in the heart of the midfield.
The debut of F1's new-look elimination qualifying system takes place later on Saturday and the battle to avoid becoming one of the first seven cars to drop out in Q1 looks likely to feature Renault, Sauber, Haas and Manor after the quartet struggled in final practice.
The battle between newcomers Haas and new-look Manor inadvertently begun within seconds of P3 beginning as Romain Grosjean and Rio Haryanto collided in the pit lane. Both cars required new front wings, while Haas also changed the floor in Grosjean's VF16.
Practice Three timesheet
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:25.624
2. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1:25.800
3. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, 1:25.852
4. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, 1:26.257
5. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:26.435
6. Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso, 1:26.701
7. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 1:26.730
8. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 1:26.768
9. Felipe Massa, Williams, 1:27.151
10. Sergio Perez, Force India, 1:27.242
11. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, 1:27.263
12. Jenson Button, McLaren, 1:27.341
13. Daniil Kvyat, Red Bull, 1:27.430
14. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, 1:27.659
15. Kevin Magnussen, Renault, 1:27.871
16. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, 1:27.988
17. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, 1:28.117
18. Esteban Gutierrez, Haas, 1:28.284
19. Romain Grosjean, Haas, 1:28.292
20. Felipe Nasr, Sauber, 1:28.293
21. Pascal Wehrlein, Manor, 1:29.046
22. Rio Haryanto, Manor, 1:29.272
The first race of the 2016 F1 season, the Australian GP, is exclusively live on Sky F1. The race in Melbourne starts at 5am on Sunday March 20. Or watch for £6.99 without a contract, on NOW TV.
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