The sun shone over Melbourne for the final practice session of the 2012 Australian Grand Prix weekend, leaving Lewis Hamilton (1:25.681) on top of the timesheets. He pipped then-leader Romain Grosjean in the final minute of the session, after both Sebastian Vettel (who ended the session seventh fastest) and Michael Schumacher crashed and beached themselves separately in the gravel in the final minutes. Schumacher and his own teammate Nico Rosberg had led much of the session, but Mark Webber, Jenson Button, and Rosberg completed the top five at the end. The Ferrari continued to look difficult, with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa only able to manage sixteenth and eighteenth, respectively.
Friday’s wet running proved as conclusive for the 2012 season as did winter testing. Schumacher (1:29.183) took final honors in the moments after the flag in the afternoon session, but Button’s time (1:27.560) from the morning session was fastest of the day. Rain preceded both sessions, dampening the track and causing standing water in some places. In the morning, Hamilton, Schumacher, Alonso, and Webber completed the fastest five runners, in general with more laps posted than in the second session. In that session, Hulkenberg, Perez, Alonso, and Kobayashi joined Schumacher in the top five. Vettel managed only eleventh and tenth fastest respectively in each session. Somehow, there were no major crashes in the wet-drying running, only the usual HRT teething issues, gravel and grass rallying, and a spectacular save from Kobayashi at the end of FP2.
Saturday in Melbourne began sunny and stayed that way for the start of the final practice, finally giving the teams to check their own systems and check out the competition. Petrov led the queue onto the track, with the Force Indias made a practice start as they entered the fray. Fifteen cars went out within the first minute of the hour-long session. On the radio, Massa sounded unhappy with a strange feeling on his steering wheel on his installation lap. Only Karthikeyan did not post an install lap in the first four minutes of the session. Both Rosberg and Schumacher went through the gravel on his first fast lap. The former managed to complete a timed lap (1:29.788) and set the first time just six minutes into FP3.
He then improved by more than two seconds on his next few laps in what appeared to be a qualifying run by the constant opening and closing of his DRS. Karthikeyan completed his installation lap near the ten minute mark as the rest of the field returned to the garage. Only Rosberg had posted a time at that point, though other drivers soon returned to the track and began setting times.
15 Minutes Elapsed:
Rosberg (1:29.982) still led with fifteen minutes gone in the session over Grosjean, Perez, Di Resta, and Hulkenberg as the top five. They were also the only drivers to have set times. Quickly the number of times increased, though none had yet eclipsed Rosberg. Hamilton (1:26.620) was the first to do so as the track continued to rubber in. Button joined him at the top, just under two tenths slower than his teammate. The fastest lap continued to drop as Schumacher took to the top.
Twenty minutes into the session, the German (1:26.234) led over Hamilton, Button, Rosberg, Vettel, Grosjean, Riciardo, Koyabashi, Alonso, and Vergne as the top ten. All but Glock, Maldonado, de la Rosa, and Karthikeyan had set a time. Meanwhile, Raikkonen had returned to the base setup in his Lotus’ steering as he “didn’t like” the different setting during FP1, according to the team. At the top, Rosberg took fastest lap from his teammate, dropping into the 1:25s for the first time on the weekend. Vettel finally managed to show the expected pace, going forth fastest, eight tenths off the time of the leading Rosberg. As the halfway point approached, de la Rosa finally set his first lap time of the weekend, eleven seconds off Rosberg’s pace.
Rosberg (1:25.929) continued to lead at halfway with all of the cars back in the garage. Schumacher, Hamilton, Vettel, Button, Webber, Kobayashi, Vergne, Grosjean, and Ricciardo completed the fastest ten, as Alonso was twelfth and Massa fifteenth. About half of the drivers returned to the track as the minutes ticked by. Schumacher was the first back out, and put together a lap that looked set to overtake his teammate’s, but the older German lost time in the final sector.
Mercedes remained 1-2 when twenty minutes remained. Hamilton was third, with Webber just pipping past teammate Vettel for fourth fastest. In this latter half of the session, the Ferrari continued to look a handful for Alonso. The Spaniard languished down in fourteenth while Massa was only twentieth fastest.
15 Minutes Remaining:
At the start of the final quarter of this final practice session, Vettel move up to third fastest. He remained behind the Mercedes duo who remained in the garage. Hamilton, Webber, Perez, Kobayashi, Button, Grosjean, and Maldonado completed the top ten. At Turn 6, Vettel barely managed to escape disaster for the Red Bull mechanics. The German beached the car in the gravel but did not smash into the barrier after losing the rear, having touched the left rear onto either the kerbing or grass. He was about to switch to a low fuel run on the soft tyres, his first in the 2012 car, once that lap was completed.
Soon, though, Hamilton was out on his own set of new soft tyres, matching Grosjean’s fastest overall first sector. The Frenchman (1:25.758) went fastest, with Hamilton barely able to match him, just under a tenth off the faster pace.
5 Minutes Remaining:
Grosjean continued to lead with five to go, just as Schumacher threw his Mercedes into the gravel trap, having lost the rear into Turn 9. He was sixth fastest at that point. Hamilton was still second fastest, Webber just posted the third fastest lap, with Button barely slower than the Australian. Rosberg completed the top five, as Vettel, Perez, Ricciardo, and Vergne completed the top ten. In the final minute, Hamilton bettered Grosjean by an equal margin the Frenchman had over him previously.
Final Times for FP3, 2012 Australian Grand Prix:
Driver Team Time Gap Laps 1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1:25.681 18 2. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:25.758 0.077 21 3. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:25.900 0.219 20 4. Jenson Button McLaren 1:25.906 0.255 17 5. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:25.929 0.248 23 6. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:26.078 0.397 14 7. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:26.211 0.530 12 8. Pastor Maldoado Williams 1:26.470 0789 17 9. Sergio Perez Sauber 1:26.632 0.951 20 10. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:26.723 1.042 17 11. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:26.733 1.052 15 12. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:26.737 1.056 19 13. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1:26.755 1.074 21 14. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:27.029 1.348 23 15. Bruno Senna Williams 1:27.119 1.438 20 16. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:27.323 1.642 19 17. Paul Di Resta Force India 1:27.428 1.747 22 18. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:28.023 2.342 19 19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1:28.341 2.660 19 20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1:28.702 3.021 11 21. Timo Glock Marsussia 1:30.728 5.047 13 22. Chrles Pic Marussia 1:31.225 5.544 14 23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1:33.114 7.433 12 24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1:33.261 7.580 13