Vettel tops red flag and rain interrupted Austrian Grand Prix FP3

Sebastian Vettel tops the final free practice session for the Austrian Grand Prix ahead of Lewis Hamilton.

Across Friday drivers were running wide, breaking down or steadily racking up the laps and this pattern continued into Saturday. For the lucky ones, they were able to just circulate the circuit, but McLaren once again were one of the few stricken with unreliability. Vettel meanwhile ran a calm session before the rain fell and drivers slipped around the circuit.

The final practice session clocked on with the threat of rain lurking over the Red Bull Ring yet again, but the threats were empty on Friday with cloudy but dry conditions for both FP1 and FP2. However the threats finally turned into action on Saturday morning, midway through the final practice session, when the clouds opened and the rain poured down upon the short circuit while drivers sat in the pit lane waiting for the red light to turn green.

The red flag was brought out after yet another reliability issue struck Alonso just after he took the final corner. As he took the exit, the steering wheel screen instantly flicked on to tell Fernando to pull the clutch to prevent the car stalling but his efforts came to no good and he parked the car to the side of the straight. This breakdown comes after both, Alonso and Button, received 20 and 25-place grid penalties respectively for changing engine components and this also caused Alonso to take a new gearbox.

While marshals cleared the McLaren from the track, the rain clouds opened but this was too late for the Ferrari and Mercedes drivers who had already been sitting in the pit lane waiting for the session to restart. Luckily all four were able to return to their garages without taking damage but Raikkonen was forced into running out onto the run off at turn 5.

At least for Vettel he was topping the session when the rain fell after another strong run on the soft tyres. This time however Hamilton was the closest challenge to Seb by just one hundredth of a second, followed by Raikkonen. On the other hand, none of the front runners were able to complete any flying laps on the supersoft tyres before the rain fell meaning they will be going into qualifying later today blind.

But with rain falling over the circuit, the chance of a wet qualifying is strong yet only Force India sent their drivers out on the intermediate tyres to test the waters. Unfortunately for the spectators, Hulkenberg’s struggles to find grip meant he & Perez returned to their garages and the other teams remained in their garages for some time before Carlos Sainz ventured out on the full wets and Vettel ventured out on intermediates with nine minutes to go.

Other drivers soon joined the duo out on track but grip was hard to find and driver upon driver continued with the theme of the weekend and locked up before running off the track. The only difference, apart from the weather, being the corners they were running wide on.

Alonso was not the only driver to be breaking down during FP3 with Romain Grosjean also suffering a gearbox problem which forced him to coast back into the garage. Luckily when he suffered a gearbox issue he was on the downhill part of the circuit meaning he could coast back but he left the team with work to do in order to get the gearbox fixed in time for qualifying. His breakdown also meant he was unable to get a short run on the wet tyres incase qualifying remained wet.

Nevertheless when the chequered flag fell Vettel’s time on the soft tyres remained P1 one tenth of a second clear of Hamilton. Raikkonen finished the session in 3rd place but was one of the drivers struggling the most to stay on track during the wet conditions.

Position Driver Gap Laps
1 Vettel 1:09.994 16
2 Hamilton 0.017 16
3 Raikkonen 0.183 12
4 Perez 0.227 14
5 Rosberg 0.338 23
6 Massa 0.414 18
7 Bottas 0.423 14
8 Verstappen 0.442 23
9 Maldonado 0.582 12
10 Grosjean 0.869 8
11 Hulkenberg 1.015 14
12 Ericsson 1.064 22
13 Sainz 1.145 18
14 Kvyat 1.145 14
15 Alonso 1.174 13
16 Ricciardo 1.825 10
17 Nasr 1.912 9
18 Button 2.622 16
19 Stevens 3.334 14
20 Merhi 3.996 8