Suzuka was rocked this morning by the news that Sebastian Vettel will be leaving Red Bull at the end of the season. But it was business as usual at Mercedes, with Rosberg topping the final free practice time sheet ahead of Hamilton.
On Friday, Rosberg and Hamilton traded blows with each topping a free practice session. But ahead of qualifying, it was Nico stabbing the final practice blow for the Japanese Grand Prix after Hamilton crashed out.
Without a wheel turning on Saturday, the F1 world was shaking with Red Bull confirming Vettel’s departure from the team. It was an expected move in the future by many, but personal I thought there was another year at Red Bull for the German.
Come the start of the final free practice session, the weather remained dry with sunny skies despite the threat of Typhoon Phanfone bringing the weekend to a halt with heavy downpours at Suzuka.
When the green light flicked on to start the session, Grosjean, Chilton, Bottas and Kyvat lead the field away with the installation laps.
Before too long, times were soon appearing on the board with Vergne setting the early pace. But the early dust was flicked into the air by Gutierrez, with the Mexican continuing his struggle at Suzuka.
This time Gutierrez lost control as he made his way through 130R, a very fast corner but the Sauber man was somehow able to keep his car from hitting the barrier and continue on his way. But it wasn’t long before he was again fighting to stay on the track down at Spoon.
The battle for the fastest lap time began to kick in as the half hour mark approached. Bottas began the battle after 25 minutes when he knocked Vergne from the top step. But it wasn’t long before Mercedes were shooting their Silver Arrows to the top via Rosberg.
Alonso was able to get his Ferrari into second place, but not for long with Hamilton leaping to the top. Ferrari are back in the eye of the storm following Vettel’s announcement this morning and the expectation on the German to join the Italian team. But in FP3 the Italian team had to switch their focus to fixing Raikkonen’s car when the Finn was forced to leave his car in the garage following an issue arising. In the end Ferrari were forced into changing the power unit on Kimi’s car. As for Vettel, it wasn’t long before he was out of his Red Bull and out of his helmet when an ERS issue crept up on his RB10.
Late into the session, the medium tyres began to hit the track and the times began to fall. Rosberg was the man to get the best out of the option tyres as he posted the fastest lap of the weekend so far.
But for his team-mate and championship rival, Hamilton was unable to challenge Rosberg for the top spot as just one minute later, he was out of the session. The Brit went into the first corner with far too much speed, got onto the run off and locked the front breaks, sending him straight into the barrier. A run through the gravel was enough to minimise the impact but the contact was still enough to break the front-left tyre away from the car.
Later on into the session, the final piece of action came via Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan mirrored Hamilton into turn one and found himself heading into the gravel. Except the Lotus driver was able to keep his car out of the barrier and continue on his way, although he would see the end of the session down in 17th place.
|6||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:35.086||1.858||13|
|11||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1:35.732||2.504||15|
|13||11||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||1:36.365||3.137||8|
|15||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:36.460||3.232||6|