Valtteri Bottas sets the pace in FP3 for the Austrian Grand Prix

In the last session to gather data ahead of qualifying it was Valtteri Bottas topping the time sheets ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Over the short run laps, Bottas found a little extra to out-finish the one time world champion fighting for his second title. But with traffic and two tricky corners at the end of the lap, the session proved its worth as drivers battled to set the pace ahead of qualifying.

As the session got underway most drivers opted to carry out an installation lap before heading out for a flying lap. But once the times began to be set, Kevin Magnussen was the early pace setter with a 1:16:696 but soon improved that to a 1:11:408. Enough to keep both Mercedes behind.

In the opening flying laps, neither Mercedes driver could get close enough to Magnussen’s lap time. But when Rosberg was eventually able to get close to Magnussen’s lap time, the McLaren driver ended up improving his lap time to regain a half a second lead at the top.

Potentially, Mercedes were not opting to push heavy in the opening quarter of an hour, as Hulkenberg, Kvyat and Raikkonen were overtaking them on the timing screens.

Regardless of Mercedes’ intentions, at least they were not suffering break issues like they did in Canada. But for McLaren with Button, the driver went off down at turn 1 and was soon on the radio to tell the team “we have no engine breaking at all”. With it being a break issue, Button is right to be concerned, especially when the team said that “everything looked fine to us” in the data. In the end Jenson would go on to wait it out as the team changed his rear right break caliper and discovered damage to his floor.

With teams looking to see what will be best for qualifying, it looks good for Williams and Toro Rosso so far, as after 20 minuets of running Bottas now lead from team-mate Massa and Kvyat. The gap between the two Williams drivers was just 3 thousandths of a second before Massa jumped ahead.

So far the drivers have only carried out running on the yellow branded soft compound tyres, and proving track conditions don’t change much ahead of the first part of qualifying, it looks like it will be a straight battle between the Lotus & Sauber drivers for who will be dropped out in Q1. There again, as the mid-point of the session approached we were still yet to see lap times set by either Red Bull driver, Sergio Perez or a competitive time by Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button.

When the Red Bull duo eventually set their lap times, they were not blistering and slumped themselves into the midfield. Unlike Williams in the early stages, Red Bull must have been looking at race pace compared to qualifying pace at this point in the session. The same could be said for Mercedes, at this point, with neither driver challenging the top of the order.

A few minuets later, with 24 minuets remaining of the session, we were still yet to see any supersoft running, but that didn’t stop Rosberg going top of the time sheets with a 1:10:058. Almost four tenths of a second faster than Bottas’ best lap thus far.

It took until the final 15 minuets of running before we had any supersoft running, with Hulkenberg being the first to break them in. But down in Marussia, Chilton will be heading into qualifying later today without any first hand knowledge of how the supersoft tyres feel here in Austria as he was forced into waiting in the pits as the team diagnosed a problem.

One of the main issues drivers keep having is through turn eight and nine. A lot of the drivers, including current championship leader Rosberg, have been running wide at turn 8. If all four wheels go over the white line, the stewards will disqualify that lap time as you may gain an advantage from carrying more speed into the corner despite running off. But for some of the drivers, they continued their wide line into turn 9 and instead of having the white-painted area to run off onto, if you run off at turn 9 (the final corner) you will find yourself off the track and in the grass.

Now as the clock began ticking down, drivers were trying to push as hard as they could without running over the track limits. This saw the Williams pair continue to show solid pace with Massa and Bottas both challenging for top spot and consistently being near the top 5 along with the two Mercedes drivers and Fernando Alonso. But it still looks like the Mercedes team will have the outright pace to top the field come qualifying providing they do not get stuck in traffic. Something that kept piping up.

But if traffic is the only issue for the Mercedes drivers who are still able to fight for top spot I would imagine they would take that. Especially compared to Caterham with Kobayashi. With the team seeing their driver loosing it at turn nine and spinning towards the barrier. Luckily he was able to keep it out of the barrier and soon continue running on track.

For Max Chilton and Jenson Button they would not be getting any low fuel supersoft runs in as neither team were able to get their drivers back out on track for the end of free practice.

Eventually as the chequered flag fell it was Bottas who say on top of the time sheet with a 1:09:848. Keeping his Mercedes powered Williams ahead of the Mercedes of Hamilton by 5 hundredths of a second and ahead of both their team-mates. Somewhat amazingly, fourth place went to the Toro Rosso of Kvyat. Last year, whilst driving in the European Formula 3 series, Daniel Kvyat actually took pole position for all three of the races at the Red Bull Ring. So clearly his previous racing knowledge of the track gave the F1 rookie a bit of a hand.

So now we go into the break between FP3 and Q1 with Bottas setting the short-run pace but will that all be enough to fight the Mercedes for pole or will the Mercedes team have a trick up their sleeve to fling themselves clear of the field.

Pos No Driver Team Time/Retired Gap
1 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 1:09.848
2 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:09.898 0.050
3 19 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1:09.901 0.053
4 26 Daniil Kvyat STR-Renault 1:09.927 0.079
5 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:09.999 0.151
6 14 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:10.054 0.206
7 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:10.392 0.544
8 20 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 1:10.449 0.601
9 7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:10.488 0.640
10 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:10.562 0.714
11 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:10.683 0.835
12 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Renault 1:10.776 0.928
13 25 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Renault 1:11.043 1.195
14 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:11.103 1.255
15 11 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1:11.235 1.387
16 99 Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 1:11.294 1.446
17 21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:11.558 1.710
18 17 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Ferrari 1:11.848 2.000
19 10 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 1:12.320 2.472
20 9 Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault 1:12.892 3.044
21 4 Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari 1:12.915 3.067
22 22 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:14.237 4.389