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F1 Malaysian GP: Hamilton lays down gauntlet ahead of qualifying

Lewis Hamilton sets a rapid pace in third and final free practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix, ahead of Max Verstappen and Nico Rosberg.
RESULTS: Malaysian Grand Prix – Free Practice Results (3)

Lewis Hamilton heads into qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix having laid down the gauntlet to Nico Rosberg after comfortably out-pacing his title rival in third and final free practice at Sepang.

The defending champion – who comes into the 16th round of the season eight points shy of his Mercedes team-mate in the overall standings – was in fine form on the soft tyres, posting the best lap of the weekend with a 1min 34.434secs effort.

By contrast, Rosberg could only manage a 1min 35.053secs lap, slower than Hamilton's session-leading FP2 effort and half a second adrift in FP3. It would also leave him third on the timesheets as Max Verstappen put in an unexpectedly rapid lap for Red Bull, four tenths off Hamilton.

Suggesting Red Bull could have the pace to challenge Ferrari at least in qualifying after all, Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel – who along with Esteban Gutierrez spun at the tricky new final corner - could only manage fourth and fifth respectively, with Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the top six for the leading three teams.

Nico Hulkenberg maintained Force India's status as 'best of the rest' in seventh, though was joined inside the top ten by Williams' Valtteri Bottas in eighth and Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz in ninth. Felipe Massa rounded out the top ten in the second Williams.

Elsewhere, Kevin Magnussen made up for lost time after his dramatic fiery episode in FP1, the Dane going 16th best, while Fernando Alonso – who will barely participate in qualifying ahead of pre-determined grid penalties - opted to complete only development work on his McLaren-Honda, lapping seven seconds off the pace in last position.

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