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Formula One

FP3: Advantage Mercedes as Hamilton heads Vettel ahead of qualifying

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In the final running in Melbourne before we get down to the first qualifying session of the 2019 season, Lewis Hamilton continued his run of heading every session so far this weekend, going 0.264s faster than Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in Free Practice 3 at Albert Park.

Hamilton posted the fastest lap of the weekend so far ahead of qualifying with a 1m 22.292s, some six-tenths faster than his pole time from last year.

With Ferrari having seemed to sandbag during Friday’s running, the Scuderia appeared to be slightly shy of Mercedes’ pace when the wicks were turned up on Vettel and Charles Leclerc’s SF90s for the first time on Saturday – although it probably won’t be until Q3 that we have a true read of the top teams’ ultimate prowess for 2019.

Behind Hamilton and the two Ferraris, Haas came from nowhere to dominate the midfield battle, Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen finishing fourth and fifth, ahead of both Red Bulls and the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, who had a scrappy session, twice getting on the grass at Albert Park’s penultimate Turn 15.

Meanwhile, Daniil Kvyat continued to demonstrate the latent pace in the Toro Rosso STR14, going P8 behind Pierre Gasly and Bottas, and ahead of Max Verstappen, the man who replaced him at Red Bull in 2016.

Williams’ lap times haven’t made for happy reading so far this weekend. And Robert Kubica added to the team’s woes by clattering the pit-lane entry wall mid-way through the session and appearing to take some bodywork off the FW42. Kubica ended the session in P20, one place behind team mate George Russell, the team’s best lap some 3.6s off the ultimate pace.

So, some eye-raising lap times on the board – and while it looks tight between Mercedes and Ferrari, let’s see how things pan out during qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix before we make any big pronouncements for 2019.

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