Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton takes part in the third practice session at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo in the outskirts of Barcelona, ahead of the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix. AFP

BARCELONA: Lewis Hamilton topped the times ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in Saturday morning’s crash-curtailed third and final free practice for the Spanish Grand Prix.

In cooler conditions, the session was brought to an early conclusion when New Zealander Brendon Hartley lost control of his Toro Rosso car at Turn Nine and spun violently into the barriers.

The rear of his car was destroyed by the high-speed impact, both rear wheels and the rear of the gearbox were left hanging by their tethers, but Hartley was unhurt, if severely dazed.

“I’m OK,” he responded on the team’s radio link.

Hartley was assisted by medical staff as he walked away from his wrecked car.

Hamilton, the championship leader and defending world champion, had earlier clocked a best lap in one minute and 17.281 seconds, leaving him 0.013sec clear of his Finnish team-mate.

The two Ferraris of four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel, who trails Hamilton by four points in the title race, and 2007 champion Finn Kimi raikkonen were third and fourth.

Daniel Ricciardo was fifth for Red Bull ahead of Dane Kevin Magnussen and his Haas team-mate Romain Grosjean, Carlos Sainz of Renault and two-time champion Fernando Alonso of McLaren.

There were big cheers from the crowd for Hartley, in his first full season in F1, as he climbed from the wreckage of his car.

On a cooler and less windy day, the cars were more stable and lower temperatures enabled greater use of the ‘super-soft’ tyres, but it was the slightly harder ‘soft’ tyres that remained Mercedes’ preferred choice.

As on Friday, the champions were quickly in the groove and demonstrated more competitive speed than in practice at recent Grands Prix. Bottas was soon going fastest before Hamilton topped the times after half an hour.

Canadian teenager Lance Stroll continued his travails with the difficult Williams car and was off into the gravel at Turn Four, but recovered to return to the pits soon before Vettel went fastest on new ‘super-softs’.

Following suit, Mercedes switched to the super-softs and Hamilton went top in 1:17.281 with Bottas slotting in second, 0.013 seconds adrift with Vettel third ahead of Raikkonen, who had taken overnight his second of the three engines permitted for the season.

Verstappen, struggling in 10th as he endures a challenging start to the season, pulled in to the Red Bull pits for an investigation into an electrical issue.

Hartley’s crash then brought out the red flags and an early end for the session.--AFP

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