Lewis Hamilton fastest as Sebastian Vettel closes in Australian GP

By Andrew BensonChief F1 writer in Melbourne
Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton was fastest in all three practice sessions in Melbourne

Lewis Hamilton headed a Mercedes one-two in final practice at the Australian Grand Prix with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel close behind.

In the first measure of comparative pace between the two best teams in F1, Hamilton was only 0.228 seconds quicker than Vettel in third place.

Hamilton's team-mate Nico Rosberg was just 0.052secs quicker than Vettel.

The margins suggest Ferrari have indeed closed the gap on Mercedes over the winter, as was suspected.

However, it is still early days - the cars' true pace will not be seen for the first time until qualifying, which starts at 06:00 GMT.

The session will take place under new rules, with a modified elimination format and the slowest car knocked out every 90 seconds after the first half of each of the three sessions.

Australian GP: F1's new qualifying format explained

If Ferrari can maintain that margin, it bodes well for a championship battle between two teams in F1 for the first time since 2012, when Vettel, then at Red Bull, narrowly pipped Fernando Alonso, then at Ferrari.

Vettel's team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was nearly 0.6secs behind the German - and was knocked down to fifth fastest time by Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz.

The Spaniard's team-mate Max Verstappen was sixth, ahead of the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo.

And there was encouragement and definite progress from McLaren-Honda compared to their dismal 2015 as Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button set 11th and 12th fastest times, 1.6secs off the pace.

In terms of their deficit to the front, that is an improvement of a second compared to last year.

British novice Jolyon Palmer was 17th quickest for Renault, two places and just over 0.2secs behind team-mate and former McLaren driver Kevin Magnussen.

The new Haas team were 18th and 19th fastest, with Mexican Esteban Gutierrez pipping Frenchman Romain Grosjean.

Grosjean had a difficult start to the session when Manor's Indonesian novice Rio Haryanto collided with him as he was leaving his pit garage.

Grosjean missed the first half of the session as Haas changed his floor as a precaution.

Romain Grosjean and Rio Haryanto
Manor's Rio Haryanto collided with Romain Grosjean in the pit lane, temporarily jamming the two together
Daniel Ricciardo
Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo meets his countrymen outside the circuit

Final practice results

Australian GP coverage details