Monaco GP Practice 3: Lewis Hamilton was fastest from Daniel Ricciardo
Championship leader P1 despite balance problems; Aussie less than a tenth of a second slower in Red Bull; Rosberg and Vettel third and fourth fastest
By Mike Wise in Monaco. Last Updated: 24/05/14 12:00pm
Lewis Hamilton: Fastest despite balance problem
Lewis Hamilton was fastest in final practice at the Monaco GP by less than a tenth of a second from Daniel Ricciardo, offering the tantalising prospect that Red Bull might be able to challenge Mercedes in qualifying.
Hamilton lapped the 3.340km track in 1:16.758 to go just 0.05s faster than the Australian, who had immediately looked at home on the streets of Monte Carlo during opening practice on Thursday.
Running then was interrupted by rain, meaning a busy session in bright sunshine on Saturday morning - the frenetic activity towards the end of the hour causing traffic that forced some drivers to back out of qualifying practice runs.
That might account for Nico Rosberg's P3 position, the German having earlier been faster than Hamilton as the Englishman battled with oversteer. "The rear end is all over the place," the championship leader reported over the radio at one point, having survived a hairy moment exiting Tabac corner.
Sebastian Vettel was certainly prevented from going faster, although the World Champion nevertheless finished the session fourth with a time 0.4s slower than Hamilton's.
Behind Mercedes and Red Bull, drivers were grouped according to their teams right down to 14th place, with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso leading the way ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
The Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg were next up, with the Mexican's time (1:17.725) further suggesting that the gap between Mercedes and the rest could well be closer this weekend.
The top ten was completed by the Toro Rossos of Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat, with McLaren (Jenson Button then Kevin Magnussen) and Williams pair Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa completing the pattern.
Something to look out for in qualifying - and which will have a bearing on race strategies - is the apparent durability of the option supersoft tyre, which is making its season debut here this weekend.
The majority of drivers seemed to extract more performance from it on their second 'flying laps' and with the track conditions set to improve across the rest of the weekend, it could be the case that the red-walled tyre - which Pirelli specifically designed to be harder this season - will last even longer.
The soft tyre is also more durable than 2013's, with Sky Sports F1's Ted Kravitz reporting during the session that Ferrari's drivers in particular have been finding it difficult to get them up to the required temperature.