BARCELONA (Reuters) - New Zealander Brendon Hartley crashed his Toro Rosso heavily in final practice for the Spanish Grand Prix on Saturday while world champion Lewis Hamilton lapped fastest for Mercedes.
Hartley was taken to the Circuit de Catalunya medical center for checks but was passed fit to continue even if his presence in later qualifying looked unlikely due to the extent of the damage.
The rear of his Honda-powered car almost broke away from the rest of the chassis when picked up by a crane to remove it from the barriers.
The accident, right at the end of the session and after Hartley had gone wide onto the grass run-off and lost control at the right-handed turn nine, brought out red flags to halt the action.
Hamilton topped the timesheets with a best lap of one minute 17.281 seconds, a mere 0.013 quicker than Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas, on supersoft tyres and under overcast skies.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who won the first two races of the season and will be chasing his fourth successive pole position, was third fastest but 0.269 slower than his title rival.
Hamilton leads the German by four points ahead of Sunday’s race, the first of the European season, with some rain forecast before qualifying.
Kimi Raikkonen, with a new engine in the back of his Ferrari, was fourth fastest ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and the two Ferrari-powered Haas cars of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean.
Spain’s two drivers, Renault’s Carlos Sainz and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, were eighth and ninth respectively.
The Williams nightmare continued, with Canadian Lance Stroll 19th and Russian Sergey Sirotkin 20th.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Ken Ferris