Fernando Alonso staked his claim to a shot at pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix with a lap six tenths of a second clear of the field in the final practice session in Shanghai.
Alonso had spent the early part of the session in the garage as his mechanics made their preparations to his car and he didn’t emerge for his first run on the medium tyre until 25 minutes into the one-hour session.
He slotted into fifth place on the white-banded medium behind first-placed Lewis Hamilton, his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg and the Red Bull Racing pairing of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.
The story changed, however, when Alonso and Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa bolted on the Soft tyre for the final quarter of the session. Massa, who had set impressive times on Friday afternoon to top FP2, was once again comfortable on the soft option and leapt to the top of the timesheet with a lap of 1:36.013, five hundredths of a second quicker than Hamilton who was also looking quick on the soft tyre.
Alonso, however, rapidly eclipsed Massa’s time, and by a considerable margin. The Spaniard delivered a superb lap to post a time of 1:35.391, almost seven tenths quicker than that of his team-mate.
With Alonso, Massa and Hamilton occupying the top three places, fourth and fifth spots were left to Vettel, who finished with a time of 1:36.286, nine tenths adrift of top spot and Webber who finished just over a second off P1.
Force India’s Adrian Sutil again looked impressive in sixth place, while Kimi Raikkonen was seventh-fastest. The Lotus man was followed by the twin McLarens of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez. Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10 for Sauber.
In an uneventful session only Nico Rosberg encountered real problems. The German had matched Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton for pace throughout the opening medium-tyre phase of the session but then Rosberg was forced to back out of his first flying lap on soft tyres, reporting a hydraulic problem which necessitated a return to the garage for investigation.
FIA Chinese Grand Prix 2013 – Free Practice 3 Times
1 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:35.391 2 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:36.013 3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:36.065 4 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 1:36.286 5 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 1:36.420 6 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:36.549 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:36.605 8 Jenson Button McLaren 1:36.693 9 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:36.777 10 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:36.853 11 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:37.072 12 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:37.205 13 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:37.300 14 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:37.349 15 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:37.457 16 Paul di Resta Force India 1:37.487 17 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:37.740 18 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:37.813 19 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:38.496 20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:38.821 21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:39.627 22 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:39.652