World champion Sebastian Vettel sent an early warning to his rivals ahead of qualifying with a blistering lap in the third free practice session ahead of the Formula 1 curtain-raiser in Australia.
Vettel, 23, was 0.8s quicker than teammate Mark Webber after posting a lap of 1.24.507 in the last few minutes of the session.
Red Bull’s domination of Saturday’s practice session was in keeping with their pre-season form in Spain, as they finished over a second ahead of the Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.
It was a strong response from the Red Bull pair after the McLaren drivers topped the timesheets on Friday. The pair finished third and fourth respectively.
Vitaly Petrov once again impressed with fifth place for Renault despite a late excursion into the gravel trap.
Fernando Alonso, Kamui Kobayashi, Nico Rosberg, Nick Heidfeld and seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher rounded out the top ten.
The Williams team managed only twelve laps after Rubens Barrichello’s car broke down and Pastor Maldonado crashed in the opening 30 minutes of the session.
Veteran Barrichello, 38, suffered a “suspected oil leak” according to the team.
Rookie Maldonado once again failed to impress as he became beached in one of Albert Park’s gravel traps after running wide.
Having managed a single instillation lap on Friday, Hispania again struggled to get their car out onto the track.
Vitantonio Liuzzi ground to halt three corners into his first lap after his gearbox jammed. Narain Karthikeyan managed the team’s first competitive lap of the season in the closing stages but was over 17s off the pace.
After so little running doubts will likely be raised over whether they can race despite teams seemingly agreeing to allow cars who fall outside of the 107% qualifying to start from the pitlane.