Vettel quickest again in Austrian GP practice 3

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Seb sets the pace in Austria.

Sebastian Vettel again came home faster than the Mercedes in a rain-affected final practice ahead of qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix.

–  Heikki Kovalainen: Future of F1 drivers, McLaren in a spin
–  VIDEO: Heikki Kovalainen’s Austrian Grand Prix podium prediction
–  #360Snapshot: Austrian GP Qualifying, England-New Zealand ODI
–  Vettel fastest in second Austrian GP practice despite gearbox issues

The four-time world champion put his Ferrari at the top of the timesheet on Friday afternoon and repeated the feat on Saturday morning, with a downpour over the Red Bull Ring effectively cutting the hour-long session in half.

The session had been red-flagged as Fernando Alonso’s stricken McLaren was cleared from the pit straight and by the time it was returned to the garage the rain put pay to any further dry runs.

Lewis Hamilton got to within 0.017 seconds of Vettel’s best effort, with the German the only driver to dip below the 70-second mark as he recorded a lap of one minute 09.994 seconds.

Kimi Raikkonen was third fastest for Ferrari, with the Force India of Sergio Perez fourth ahead of Hamilton’s team-mate Nico Rosberg.

Williams locked out the front row here last year, with 2014 pole sitter Felipe Massa sixth quickest ahead of the sister car of Valtteri Bottas.

Max Verstappen was eighth for Toro Rosso, with the Lotus pair of Pastor Maldonado and Roman Grosjean rounding out the top 10.

Nico Hulkenberg was 11th but he was the first man to try and run on intermediate tyres as the rain fell and quickly returned to the pits as he struggled to keep his Force India on the track.

The Sauber of Marcus Ericsson set the 12th fastest time with Carlos Sainz 13th for Toro Rosso, whose parent team Red Bull could only manage 14th place for Daniil Kvyat and 16th for Daniel Ricciardo.

The pair will also take grid penalties ahead of the race after engine component changes, as will Alonso who split the Red Bulls before his issues – with the Spaniard set for a 20-place drop.

That will see the McLaren start in the pit-lane and likely serve a stop-go penalty during the race, with the same outcome for team-mate Jenson Button who was slapped with a 25-place penalty for fitting new power unit parts.

The 2009 world champion was down in 18th as Honda continue to struggle for speed, with the Sauber of Felipe Nasr 17th and the Manor pair of Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi bringing up the rear of the field.

After Hulkenberg’s adventures into the gravel traps and run-off areas, the drivers remained in their garages until the final stages as they took to the track in case the rain does not clear ahead of qualifying.

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#360LIVE: Austrian Grand Prix Qualifying

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Keep up with all the intense qualifying.

Formula One returns to Europe and the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg for the Austrian Grand Prix this weekend. You can follow all the crucial qualifying  LIVE with Sport360.

–  Heikki Kovalainen: Future of F1 drivers, McLaren in a spin

–  VIDEO: Heikki Kovalainen's Austrian Grand Prix podium prediction

–  #360Snapshot: Austrian GP Qualifying, England-New Zealand ODI
–  Vettel fastest in second Austrian GP practice despite gearbox issues

The race returned to the F1 calendar last year for the first time since 2003 and in addition to the grand prix, the circuit will also host a two-day test on the following Tuesday and Wednesday.

Nico Rosberg finished highest on the podium last year. The German will be hoping for a repeat this weekend with the fear of team-mate Lewis Hamilton running away with the championship.

Last five winners: 
2014: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes);
2003: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari);
2002: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari);
2001: David Coulthard (McLaren);
2000: Mika Hakkinen (McLaren).

You can follow the practices LIVE with Sport360.

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Heikki Kovalainen: Future of F1 and Hamilton's passions

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Heikki (l) has plenty of topics to discuss.

The Red Bull Ring in Austria is a very different type of F1 circuit for the drivers to combat. Qualifying this weekend will be extremely close because it’s a shorter track, consisting of lots of straight lines and not many high-speed corners, so it is difficult to make a big impact during qualifying. It’s usually a 1:08/1:09 lap time, which is relatively short. I expect Mercedes to dominate again and the Renault-powered cars to experience a tough weekend.

#360LIVE: Austrian Grand Prix Qualifying and Race
VIDEO: Possible reason behind Raikkonen’s spin in Canadian GP
VIDEO: Could Lewis Hamilton be a future rock star? 
VIDEO: Heikki Kovalainen’s Austrian Grand Prix podium prediction

It will be intriguing to see how McLaren do in Austria after all the changes they are making to their cars. However, it’s not just the performance that McLaren are missing, it’s also the reliability. To try and fix both of these elements is challenging to say the least. They have to be closer this year and scoring points to get some encouragement for next season and they have been experiencing more issues than expected for a team of their calibre. To get the new engine integrated with the chassis is proving to be more difficult than they thought and I can’t see them making a step towards the front anytime soon. 

Fernando Alonso wouldn’t have expected to experience this many problems during his maiden season at his new team. I’m sure he knew he wouldn’t be successful immediately when he signed but one of the reasons he went there was to try and replicate what Mercedes and Ferrari have done in the past. He was given an exclusive package that is the strongest in the team and is why he went there. He will be frustrated with the results but he has no other choice than to try his utmost to turn things around this season. 

Hulkenberg victory providing new route for F1 drivers?

Nico Hulkenberg winning Le Mans 24 Hours doesn’t change anything for the future of racing, I’m afraid. The problem in the past has been that drivers can’t get out of their Formula One duties. You were contracted to a team and weren’t allowed to take part in other races. This was a problem in years gone by but Force India have made an exception with Hulkenberg. It’s no surprise that he won the endurance race because Formula One has the best drivers. If you give a decent car to an F1 driver, they will be competitive wherever they race. 

Being a Formula One driver takes up way more time than you would imagine. Duties such as; simulator work, promotions and other tasks aside from the busy race schedule leave you with a minimal amount of spare time. It was a great thing for him to win though and the fact Nico was allowed to race was fantastic. I hope more drivers are able to follow Nico’s lead in the future and, you never know, perhaps more of the paddock will be tempted to try out other types of races after seeing Nico’s success.

Hamilton the rock star

Throughout his career, Lewis Hamilton has never been far from the back pages for an array of incidents that have nothing to do with F1; from his dress sense to celebrity female admirers. 

Back when I was Lewis’ team-mate, music was his main interest away from the track. He was thinking about writing and producing his own songs and was into rap and a bit of reggae. I never actually heard him sing but I think he’s actually been in a studio working on it so he can’t be that bad!

Perhaps he has more time to pursue this passion with Mercedes than when we were at McLaren. Formula One teams seemed to be more strict in the past than they are now. If it doesn’t effect Lewis’ driving, you should let him wear what he wants and take on more hobbies. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he looks good in what he is wearing, but I’m not really interested in fashion, whereas Lewis obviously is. It’s nice that he can enjoy himself and ‘do his thing’. 

Heikki is currently based in Abu Dhabi and is racing in this year’s Japanese Super GT championship for Lexus Team SARD.

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