BARCELONA, Spain May 14- Championship leader Nico Rosberg topped the times ahead of his Mercedes team-mate and defending champion Lewis Hamilton in Saturday’s third and final free practice ahead of this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.
The 30-year-old German, who is 43 points clear of the three-time title winner after four successive wins, was quickest with a best time of one minute and 23.078 seconds.
It was the fastest lap recorded during the three practice sessions.
This lifted Rosberg, who is chasing his first title, 0.126 seconds ahead of Hamilton who showed a substantial improvement on his lacklustre showing in Friday’s opening sessions.
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel was third-fastest for Ferrari, just 0.147 seconds off the pace set by Rosberg, a time that endorsed the confidence many observers have in Ferrari’s ability to mount a challenge to the Mercedes dominance.
Dutch teenager Max Verstappen shone, too, on his second day with Red Bull after being moved from Toro Rosso, by clocking the fourth-best lap time, six-tenths off the pace, but ahead of his new team-mate Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who was fifth, one-tenth of a second slower.
Finn Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 champion, was sixth in the second Ferrari ahead of compatriot Valtteri Bottas, of Williams, Mexican Sergio Perez of Force India, Russian Daniil Kvyat, on his second day back with Toro Rosso, and the local hero, two-time champion Fernando Alonso, in the leading McLaren Honda.
The session was largely without major incident, but Rosberg suffered one mechanical scare when a sensor on his Mercedes failed and he had to limp back to the pits for brief repairs.
Vettel clocked his fastest lap only three minutes from the end of the session as a rising sun provided much warmer track conditions that may assist Ferrari, although rain has been forecast for Sunday.