MELBOURNE (Reuters) – McLaren’s Lando Norris topped the timesheet in the final free practice at the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday as Sebastian Vettel’s nightmare weekend continued with a crash.
Norris lapped the upgraded Albert Park circuit in a time of one minute 19.117 seconds, with a 0.132 second break to Ferrari’s second-placed Charles Leclerc.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was third quickest ahead of Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and fifth-placed Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz.
Daniel Ricciardo was sixth quickest in an encouraging session for McLaren.
World champion Max Verstappen was seventh fastest and struggled with handling issues through the session, at one point taking a 360-degree spin into grass.
“It’s really hard to feel the corners at the moment,” he said on the team radio.
Vettel was back in his Aston Martin with a new power unit a day after his car broke down during first practice on Friday but promptly crashed it at turn 10, bringing out a red flag around 20 minutes into the session.
The four-times world champion oversteered and skidded over the gravel before thudding into a wall, ruining the car’s left wheel and suspension in the process.
Having been fined 5,000 euros ($5,400) for an impromptu moped ride along the track after his Friday mishap, Vettel hitched a ride with a track marshal back to the team garage.
His team mate Lance Stroll had a similar mishap before turn 11, also damaging his left wheel, bringing out another red flag and effectively ending the session five minutes early.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was eighth quickest, nearly eight-tenths of a second behind Norris, with his team mate George Russell 11th fastest.
Teams had to tweak their strategy after organisers decided to reduce the number of Albert Park’s DRS zones, designed to improve overtaking chances, from four to three for safety reasons after reviewing the Friday practice sessions.
The DRS zone between turn eight and nine, part of a sweeping stretch where drivers nudge top speeds, was cut for the rest of the race weekend, the FIA’s Race Director Niels Wittich told teams before the session.
($1 = 0.9195 euros)
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Richard Pullin)