Lando Norris took a shock P1 in Friday practice for McLaren, ending Ferrari’s stranglehold on Albert Park ahead of qualifying.
Norris’ hot lap couldn’t be beaten after Lance Stroll understeered into the barrier on the outside of Turn 11 and broke his front wing and left-front corner, causing a red flag and ending the session with less than five minutes still to run.
It compounded a difficult day at an increasingly painful weekend for Aston Martin. Sebastian Vettel also crashed just 20 minutes into the hour, losing control of his car through the fast Turn 9-10 at around 160mph. He skidded sideways through the gravel on the far side of the track, making heavy contact with the barriers and ripping off his right-front wheel.
The crash is particularly costly for Vettel, who lost part of FP1 and all of FP2 to an engine failure, for which he took an entirely new power unit for today. Having missed the first two grands prix with COVID, he is very much on the back foot for qualifying.
There are also concerns for spare parts early in the season, with both cars requiring repair work to their front-left corners.
Norris’s best lap, a 1m19.117s, was 0.132s quicker than the next-best lap from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, though the Briton’s hour ended under a cloud when he was told to stay off throttle on his way back to the pits due to an apparent engine-related problem.
Sergio Perez followed closely in third — the Mexican just 0.016s slower than Sainz in stark contrast to teammate Max Verstappen who slipped backwards in his understanding of the car after an optimistic end to Friday practice.
Verstappen struggled early in the session with oversteer and spun himself into the grass at the penultimate corner. After tweaks in the garage he took to the track and complained of understeer. Verstappen ended the hour seventh and 0.692s off the pace.
Between the Red Bulls was Fernando Alonso, who led much of the session for Alpine and ended just 0.01s behind Perez. Carlos Sainz was fifth, 0.3s adrift, and Daniel Ricciardo sixth, just under 0.6s slower than his table-topping teammate after a scruffy final lap.
Mercedes enjoyed a marginally more promising final practice session, with Lewis Hamilton eighth and George Russell 11th, 0.779s and 0.979s slower than the Mercedes-powered Norris respectively. The silver car looked far from comfortable to drive, with both drivers running off the road and through the stones multiple times through the hour and the floor bottoming out through the fast chicane at the back of the circuit.
Valtteri Bottas was ninth for Alfa Romeo ahead of AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, completing the top 10.
Pierre Gasly was fractionally behind Russell in 12th, followed by compatriot Esteban Ocon in 13th.
Mick Schumacher was 14th for Haas, extending the American team’s lukewarm form in Melbourne. Zhou Guanyu followed ahead of Alex Albon and Kevin Magnussen.
Nicholas Latifi was 18th and completed the order among the finishers. Stroll was only good enough for 19th before his late crash, while Vettel didn’t set a time before his own earlier smash and finished last.