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Lewis Hamilton has assumed the initiative heading into qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix as Mercedes maintained its comfortable advantage in FP3 and Red Bull was beset by more technical issues.

Having played second fiddle to team-mate Nico Rosberg in FP1 and FP2, Hamilton sprung to the top with just over five minutes of the session remaining courtesy of a tidy 1min 27.867secs benchmark. He was on course to improve it further still, but would opt out of completing the lap.

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With Rosberg choosing not to go out in the final minutes to partake in the flurry of soft-tyre laps - after his earlier efforts were hampered by more than one oversteer moment -, Sebastian Vettel popped up into second quickest for Ferrari, ahead of his countryman, the four-time champion just under seven tenths shy of the top spot.

An impressive effort by the German, making his debut in Ferrari colours this weekend, he was the only driver to offer a convincing challenge for the Mercedes', with the Williams' of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa in fourth and fifth, but more than a second behind pace setter Hamilton.

Kimi Raikkonen firmed Ferrari's status as a competitive challenger for qualifying in sixth place - albeit four tenth behind his new team-mate -, while Lotus followed in seventh and eighth, despite both Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado suffering off-track moments during the session.

Similarly, Carlos Sainz suffered his own leery moment across the grass but still led the challenge for Toro Rosso in ninth, while Felipe Nasr made a welcome appearance inside the top ten as Sauber desperately tries to move on from the court case that has consumed its attention so far this weekend.

His team-mate Marcus Ericsson suffered a high-speed spin at turn 12, but recovered to the 12th fastest time behind Max Verstappen, while Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez remain closely matched in the developing Force Indias down in 13th and 14th.

Meanwhile, Red Bull's difficult opening event continued into FP3 with Daniil Kvyat reporting problems with his car before running off track early on, while home hero Daniel Ricciardo - who has already had a power unit change this weekend - also stopped with issues moments after leaving the pit lane. Though both would eventually get out on track again eventually, it was a brief appearance that would leave them languishing in 15th and 18th respectively.

Over at McLaren-Honda, though both Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen were able to complete consistent laps, the MP4-30 remains relatively off the pace, the pair more than 3.5secs down on the top time, while Manor F1 - as expected - didn't get out on track, suggesting its chances of participating or qualifying this weekend are now very slim