Red Bull gave its rivals a glimpse of its true potential after dominating the third free practice session for the Australian Grand Prix, with Sebastian Vettel heading teammate Mark Webber.
Vettel set a breathtaking 1m24.507s lap in the final minutes of the session on the soft Pirellis. But interestingly, the German's fastest time on the harder prime tire – set 15 minutes earlier – was also quicker than anyone else could manage all session long.
That might not have been the case for Webber, whose two quick runs on the softs were ruined on successive laps by the slow-moving cars of Narain Karthekiyan and Nick Heidfeld.
The McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button maintained yesterday's promise by going third and fourth fastest. The pair were split by a hundredth of a second at the end of a session which saw Button lock up and run off track at Turn 3 early on.
Vitaly Petrov was one of the surprises of FP3, setting the fifth fastest time for Renault, having been deep inside the top 10 for much of the hour.
Fernando Alonso could only manage the sixth-fastest time for Ferrari, having looked reasonably ragged on his soft-tire run. Kamui Kobayashi put Sauber an impressive seventh ahead of Nico Rosberg, Heidfeld in the second Renault and Michael Schumacher completing the top ten.
Sebastien Buemi was another surprisingly impressive performer, only slipping out of the top ten in the final moments of the session for Toro Rosso.
Paul di Resta once again outpaced Force India team-mate Adrian Sutil in 14th, while Rubens Barrichello could only manage 16th after a disastrous session for the Williams team. Having watched team-mate Pastor Maldonado beach his car in the gravel, the Brazilian had to abandon the session before the end because of a suspected oil leak related to the gearbox.
HRT finally managed to get Karthikeyan on track – who completed five laps, 17sec off the pace, but Vitantonio Liuzzi was forced to stop his car on the outlap.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m24.507s 15
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m25.364s + 0.857 14
3. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m25.553s + 1.046 15
4. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m25.567s + 1.060 16
5. Petrov Renault 1m25.906s + 1.399 18
6. Alonso Ferrari 1m26.121s + 1.614 16
7. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m26.417s + 1.910 17
8. Rosberg Mercedes 1m26.520s + 2.013 17
9. Heidfeld Renault 1m26.746s + 2.239 17
10. Schumacher Mercedes 1m26.856s + 2.349 15
11. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m27.008s + 2.501 17
12. Massa Ferrari 1m27.011s + 2.504 15
13. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m27.066s + 2.559 14
14. di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m27.087s + 2.580 15
15. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m27.180s + 2.673 15
16. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m28.068s + 3.561 7
17. Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m28.077s + 3.570 9
18. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m29.772s + 5.265 17
19. Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m30.003s + 5.496 18
20. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m30.261s + 5.754 15
21. Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m30.496s + 5.989 5
22. D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m30.704s + 6.197 18
23. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m41.554s + 17.047 5
24. Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth No time 1
All Timing Unofficial