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Norris tops scrappy final Melbourne practice ahead of Leclerc

McLaren’s Lando Norris upstaged Ferrari and Red Bull to clock the fastest time in a scrappy third and final practice on Saturday for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix.

In a session in which Sebastian Vettel slammed into a wall, the Briton Norris posted a blistering one minute 19.117 seconds around Melbourne’s Albert Park, 0.132 ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

It was a huge improvement from McLaren, with team-mate and home hope Daniel Ricciardo sixth.

Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was third, ahead of a rejuvenated Fernando Alonso in his Alpine, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz fifth.

World champion Max Verstappen, in the other Red Bull, was seventh, 0.692 off the pace. He spun at Turn 13.

“It’s really hard to get the balance at the moment,” he said, later complaining of understeer.

On an overcast day, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton came eighth in his struggling Mercedes, an improvement from Friday’s 13th.

But he was still having handling troubles, sliding through the gravel at one point and brushing the barriers.

His teammate George Russell also detoured off the track, complaining his car was “all over the place”. He finished 11th.

Ahead of qualifying later Saturday, there was more disaster for four-time world champion Vettel.

After missing the opening two races of the year with Covid he suffered engine failure on Friday and was fined 5,000 euros (US$5,500) after riding a moped on the track.

He lost control on Saturday without posting a time after just five laps, hitting the wall hard at Turn 9.

“Sorry, I lost the car,” he apologised on the radio, heading back to the paddock — this time on the back of a moped and off the track. His teammate Lance Stroll also mangled his car late in the session.

Norris was one of the first out in the 60-minute practice and an early pace-setter.

But with just over 10 minutes left, Sainz was in front ahead of Perez and looked set to top the times, until the McLaren ace stunned the field.

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