Vettel hot in cold and wet Melbourne
Sebastian Vettel snatched the fastest lap of a rainy final practice at the Australian Grand Prix after making a last-minute switch to dry-weather tyres.
With just minutes remaining in the session and the sun beginning to break through the grey clouds that had overshadowed the circuit all morning, the Ferrari driver made himself the first man of the day to try Pirelli’s ultrasoft tyre, the softest compound of the weekend.
He immediately began lighting up the timing screens, and by the end of the lap he’d improved the session benchmark by 5.6 seconds.
Teammate Kimi Raikkonen followed, but his dry lap was 2.4 seconds off the pace after he got caught behind Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, the only driver other than the Ferrari pair to set a flying lap on a slick set of tyres. The Swede set the third-fastest times, 0.4 seconds behind the Finn.
Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen led the way for the intermediate-shod runners courtesy of a personal best lap set in the dying moments of free practice — despite his team telling him to avoid any ‘heroics’ at the risk of an accident — but the Dutchman looked characteristically at home in the conditions.
Carlos Sainz followed for Renault, ahead of RBR’s Daniel Ricciardo and Mercedes teammates Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton. McLaren pair Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10.
The driver order was largely dependent on when the driver set the lap, with the track improving throughout the hour after heavy rain lashed the circuit in the morning.
Support categories immediately before the session helped to clean the track of most of the standing water, and most drivers needed the full wet tyre for only one lap before switching to the intermediate rubber.
The green and greasy surface prevented an early change to the ultrasoft rubber. With qualifying starting just two hours after the conclusion of final practice, no team wanted their driver to risk crashing the car with so little repair time available.