MONTE CARLO (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton topped the times again in Saturday morning's final free practice session for Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix, the Mercedes driver winding up just ahead of Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the leading Red Bull after a dramatic hour's action.
The championship-leading Briton, who was the fastest man in Thursday's opening practice sessions, clocked a best lap of 1min 16.758sec to set the pace, but only after locking up and missing the chicane on an earlier fast lap as he, and most other drivers, struggled to find perfection on the unforgiving barrier-lined circuit.
Thanks to a stunning lap, Ricciardo was only 0.050sec slower than Hamilton in his Red Bull ahead of local hero Nico Rosberg in the second Mercedes who, watched by his father and former champion Keke, pushed hard, but also made a mistake.
Defending four-time drivers' champion German Sebastian Vettel was fourth in the second Red Bull ahead of two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and Mexican Sergio Perez and his Force India team-mate German Nico Huelkenberg.
Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne was eighth fastest for Toro Rosso ahead of his team-mate Russian rookie Daniil Kvyat and Dane Jan Magnussen, also a rookie, in the leading McLaren.
On a circuit where McLaren have been majestic victors in the past, Magnussen's team-mate 2009 champion Briton Jenson Button was only 11th while Finn Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 champion was down in 16th in the second Ferrari.
On a perfect morning of blue skies and warm sunshine, the classic street circuit shimmered as the cars began practice, the two Mercedes men almost immediately stamping their authority on proceedings.
Rosberg, whose relationship with team-mate Hamilton had been analysed and discussed so much during Friday's rest day, was first to set a clear fastest lap time and moved clear with 1:17.736.
Hamilton responded with several laps to close the gap to take second spot to less than two-tenths while the two Red Bull drivers, led by Ricciardo, moved into third and fourth places before Vettel stormed to third place shortly before the midway point in the session.
Only then did the leading men switch from traditional "soft" tyres to the Monaco-compound "super specials" for the extra grip required - a move that reshuffled the leaders and led to Hamilton, despite his complaints about the handling of his car, recording the fastest lap ahead of Saturday afternoon's critical qualifying session.
Hamilton, who leads the championship ahead of Rosberg by just three points, has never taken pole position in the Mediterranean principality, but is aiming for his fifth pole in six races this year and his second Monaco win.
He won in 2008 on his way to taking the title that year.