FP3: Hamilton edges Vettel as Hulkenberg crashes heavily
The damp and windy conditions at Suzuka limited running in Free Practice 3, but when given the chance to display his speed on a dry track, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton came up with the goods to top the timesheet for the third time this weekend. But the session ended on a sour note for Nico Hulkenberg, with the Renault driver crashing heavily into the barriers and bringing out the red flags with three minutes to go…
Hamilton, who has looked in imperious form in Japan, was made to wait before making his mark, having earlier been hindered by the rain that arrived 15 minutes into the session. Once conditions improved, the Briton clocked a 1m 29.599s on supersoft tyres to finish one tenth up on Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who was much closer to the Mercedes than on Friday.
Kimi Raikkonen was third, 0.455s back from Hamilton, with the sister Silver Arrow of Valtteri Bottas spliting the Red Bull pair of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. Verstappen had been left with much work to do during the 60-minute session after a frustrating Friday practice in which he was unhappy with his RB14's handling.
After Ricciardo, no one else could get within a second of Hamilton’s marker – which was slower than both of session-topping laps in FP1 and FP2 due to the tricky conditions. Force India’s Esteban Ocon came closest, the Frenchman securing a hat-trick of P7s this weekend, albeit 1.489s behind the pacesetter.
Perez followed his team mate in eighth, while Renault’s Carlos Sainz edged Haas’ Kevin Magnussen to win the battle for P9. But that was the only positive for Renault.
Minutes from the end of the session, Hulkenberg ran wide through the quick Esses section at the beginning of the lap and lost control of his car. Sent on a collision course with the barriers, the heavy impact brought the session to a premature end and puts the German's qualifying participation in some doubt given the extent of the damage to his car – his mechanics have under two hours to get it repaired for Q1.
So Suzuka, famous for its changeable conditions, once again didn’t disappoint, with an entertaining session. Wet or dry, qualifying will be must-watch…