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Final practice - Hamilton pips Grosjean 17 Mar 2012

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4/27.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 16 March 2012 Sebastian Vettel slides off the track and gets stuck in the gravel trap And Michael Schumacher becomes the second German world champion to end up beached just a few minutes later Ferrari continue to struggle as Fernando Alonso's car is way off the pace Aussie Daniel Ricciardo's view from the helmet camera on board his Toro Rosso

McLaren moved back to the top of the timesheets in Melbourne’s Albert Park on Saturday afternoon in the final free practice session, but not before the Mercedes duo had again shown the speed of their car.

€n a session which saw both Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher end their running in the gravel, Hamilton pushed to the front in the final quarter hour with a lap of 1m 25.681s, dislodging Romain Grosjean who began to demonstrate all the perceived potential of the Lotus E20. The Frenchman lapped in 1m 25.780s, just 0.077s off the fastest time.

Right behind them, Mark Webber showed that there isn’t much wrong with the Red Bull RB8 with 1m 25.900s, then came Jenson Button in the second McLaren on 1m 25.906s, and Nico Rosberg in the lead Mercedes on 1m 25.929s.

Schumacher ended up sixth on 1m 26.078s, having spun off in Turn 9, while seventh-fastest Vettel lapped in 1m 26.211s before going off backwards in Turn 6.

Besides Grosjean, whose pace had largely been expected, the next surprise was Pastor Maldonado in eighth for Williams on 1m 26.470s, then Sergio Perez on 1m 26.632s in the lead Sauber and Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne on 1m 26.723s and 1m 26.733s respectively. Kimi Raikkonen was 12th on 1m 26.737s, still unhappy with his car after steering problems yesterday. Kamui Kobayashi was 13th on 1m 26.755s, before the next time break saw Nico Hulkenberg 14th on 1m 27.029s in the lead Force €ndia from Bruno Senna on 1m 27.119s for Williams.

Doubtless you’re wondering where the Ferraris were. Well, Fernando Alonso was their lead runner in 16th on 1m 27.323s from Force €ndia’s Paul di Resta on 1m 27.428s, while Felipe Massa in the second red car survived another spin, this time in Turn 15, to post an 18th fastest 1m 28.023s.

The Caterhams were in the same relative positions as they used to be when the team was Lotus last year, with Heikki Kovalainen 19th on 1m 28.341s from Vitaly Petrov on 1m 28.702s.

Timo Glock continued to gather mileage in the Marussia and lapped his MR01 in 1m 30.728s, while rookie Charles Pic again showed good pace for 1m 31.225s.

At the back, Pedro de la Rosa battled steering problems on his way to 1m 33.114s for HRT, ahead of team mate Narain Karthikeyan on 1m 33.261s.

The weather was great, and will remain so for qualifying later this evening, and at last a pattern for the long awaited 2012 F1 season is beginning to emerge. As expected, the message so far is that things look very close, both at the front and in the midfield.

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