Russian GP: Hamilton continues to control on the soft tyres in FP3

After an hour of running around the Sochi Autodrom, Hamilton topped the time sheets for the second time this weekend. Lewis led the session at the chequered flag by just three tenths over Rosberg as the teams prepared for qualifying in Russia.

Hamilton regained control in Russia after topping the second free practice session in dominant fashion. But the weekend hadn’t gone all his way in the build up to his flying lap. In the opening practice session it was Nico Rosberg taking control as he topped the time sheet, but it was a matter of six hundredths of a second separating the Silver Arrows. Then in FP2 when the soft tyres came out, Lewis had his Mercedes flying as he lapped the Sochi Autodrom eight tenths of a second faster than Kevin Magnussen in second.

Going into the final practice session, Red Bull had a lot of work to do. Across both Friday practice sessions the current world drivers and constructors champions severely struggled in Sochi. With the highest place they could achieve being a ninth place in FP2, over a 1.7 seconds off Hamilton’s pace. Furthermore it was not just Red Bull going into the final practice with work to do, the FIA left themselves with work to do. This came after they opted to add speed bumps on the exit of turn 2, after the high amount of cars running off without loosing an advantage in practice. As well as lowering the pit lane speed limit to 60km/h from 80km/h.

Come the start of the final practice session at 12 o’clock local time, a handful of drivers headed out onto the track for their installation runs. However once the early lap times begun to appear, they were a fair way off the pace set yesterday. But soon enough the expected front runners were moving ahead as they battled for the top spot on the medium tyres.

Throughout Friday it was the McLaren’s bringing the challenge to the Mercedes, but this morning Bottas with taking the battle to the Silver Arrows. Hamilton had taken the early lead despite a scruffy lap leaving his time in the 1:42s. But as he brought that time down towards the 1:40s, Rosberg and Bottas also were bringing theirs down.

There was a temporary five-minute break in the session after another stopped car out on track brought out a red flag. This time it was for McLaren with Magnussen pulling to the side of the track. Kevin appeared to hit the new kerb at turn 2, resulting in broken suspension and an early end.

When the session was back underway, the struggle for grip was also back underway. Kobayashi and Bottas were the early strugglers at turn 4 with both running off the track. Luckily for both there is enough run off to avoid a crash. Which is also lucky for Valtteri as just minutes later he put his Williams in P1.

A 1:40:655 on the medium tyres was enough to put the Finn on the top spot, putting seven hundredths of a second between Hamilton and himself. However, the Finn would not hold on to that spot for too long as Rosberg romped to the top by an even slender margin.

Entering the final twenty minutes of the session, more and more drivers continued to struggle with keeping their cars within the track limits. Especially at turn 2 where drivers continued to struggle at slowing down in time at the end of the main straight. But whilst some drivers ran off at turn 2, others were in the pits getting a fresh set of softs fitted to their cars for the first time in FP3.

In the end it was Kimi Raikkonen who left his garage to be the first driver to use the soft tyres. Before fellow Finn, Bottas joined the Ferrari man. Over the next few minutes several other drivers fitted the faster, option tyres as Kimi found over a second on the fresh rubber.

Unfortunately the Ferrari hadn’t been impressive in the session, so even with that extra second he lingered in the low top 10 positions. Especially when Hamilton, Bottas and Massa all found the time to dip below the 1:40 mark and occupy the top 3. Hamilton even broke below the 1:39 mark as he created distance between himself and his championship rival.

Although he was now leading the session by a comfortable margin, things were not going perfectly for the Brit. Down at turn 17, the penultimate corner, Lewis sent his Mercedes into a spin. He was able to force his car to stop in time and avoid the barrier, he suffered severe lock ups and cut across the track to enter the pits.

Now with just a matter of minutes left in the session, his top spot was open to attack and that attack swiftly come from Bottas and Rosberg. Initially Bottas improved to reduce the gap to Hamilton for P2, but still remained three tenths back. Enough of a margin for Rosberg to nip in and snatch P2 with seconds remaining before the chequered flag fell.

So at the end of the final practice session, Hamilton remains in control on the soft compound tyres ahead of qualifying. But did Rosberg have anything held back in his pocket for qualifying?

Another pointer to take from the final practice session was Red Bull closing in on the front with Ricciardo securing P4. However, the soon to be ex-Red Bull driver, Sebastian Vettel could only manage P10.

Pos No Driver Team Time/Retired Gap Laps
1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:38.726 15
2 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:39.016 0.290 25
3 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 1:39.097 0.371 20
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:39.755 1.029 16
5 19 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1:39.954 1.228 22
6 26 Daniil Kvyat STR-Renault 1:40.009 1.283 27
7 7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:40.011 1.285 20
8 14 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:40.151 1.425 15
9 25 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Renault 1:40.205 1.479 26
10 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:40.338 1.612 21
11 22 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:40.355 1.629 19
12 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:40.669 1.943 23
13 11 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1:40.699 1.973 26
14 99 Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 1:41.146 2.420 21
15 21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:41.520 2.794 20
16 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:41.915 3.189 22
17 20 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 1:42.436 3.710 4
18 9 Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault 1:43.109 4.383 11
19 10 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 1:43.975 5.249 12
20 4 Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari 1:44.737 6.011 9
21 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Renault No time 2