Australian GP 2018
MARCH 24, 2018
Practice 3 Report - Slickery
By Dan Knutson in Melbourne
Morning rain left the track slick and slippery and greasy as the third free practice session for the Australian Grand Prix got underway. But the track conditions improved as the session wore on, and the drivers were able to switch to Pirelli's intermediate rain tires. Then, right at the end, it was dry enough for slicks, and Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen took the fastest lap honors.
The ambient temperature at the start of the 90-minute session was 64 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Centigrade) and the track temperature was 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Centigrade).
The line-up for the weekend was: Mercedes – Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas; Red Bull TAG Heuer – Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen; Ferrari – Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen; Force India Mercedes – Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon; Williams Mercedes –Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin; McLaren Renault – Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne; Renault – Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz; Toro Rosso Honda – Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly; Haas Ferrari – Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen; Sauber Ferrari – Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc.
Hamilton went fastest on Friday, posting a lap of 1:23.931. But that, of course, was in the dry.
"Coming to the first race, you really have no idea what it's going to be like," he said on Friday evening. "You don't how you're going to feel physically, you don't know how the tires are going to react to the circuit. But we started on the right foot today, we got through everything we needed.
"It closed up a little bit in FP2 in terms of the gap between us all, but that's exciting. It's more challenging for me to try and eke out a little more from the car. It's been such a nice day; Albert Park is a really beautiful place to be and work when the weather is like this."
The weather like this was sunny and hot, and it was not like that on Saturday at all. It rained consistently in the morning and, although it eased off and then stopped as the 2 p.m. local time start of FP3 approached, the track was still slick and slippery. So the drivers had Pirelli's extreme wet tires on their cars as they headed out for their installation laps.
"Greasy," was one driver's assessment of the track conditions.
But Hartley was a bit more upbeat: "There is not any standing water," he said. "Grip was a bit better than I expected."
Thirteen drivers did a single lap and returned to the pits to join the others who had not ventured out at all in the first 14 minutes.
Then Hulkenberg tried the intermediate tires and posted the first time of FP3 – 1:40.863. Others were on the inters including Verstappen who got down to a 1:35.548. Verstappen said the conditions were okay but the painted white lines at Turn 9 were slippery.
Just before the halfway mark, Alonso reported that the track was drying quite quickly.
At the midpoint of FP3, Verstappen remained fastest, followed by Ricciardo, Vettel, Raikkonen, Gasly and Alonso.
Shortly thereafter Ricciardo popped to the top with a time of 1:35.265. Alonso chopped that down to a 1:34.298. The track was getting drier and faster. Bottas proved that with his 1:34.174.
With just over 15 minutes remaining in the session, most drivers were in the pits.
Then a couple of them, on inters, headed back out.
Just three minutes remained when Sainz, on inters, got down to a 1:33.172. Verstappen used the same rubber for his 1:31.680.
Finally, Ferrari deemed that the slippery track was dry enough for its drivers to switch to slick tires. Vettel used the ultra soft Pirellis to grab the top honors in 1:26.067, and Raikkonen did a 1:26.499.
Ericsson, on slicks, moved into third. Other "slickers" improved as well.
The top 10 at the end of the slippery but drying session were: Vettel, Raikkonen, Ericsson, Verstappen, Sainz, Bottas, Hamilton, Vandoorne and Alonso.