Sebastian Vettel sent out a firm message that he is the man to beat as he claimed top spot in final practice with a lap six tenths of a second clear of nearest rival Nico Rosberg of Mercedes.
Vettel and his Red Bull Racing team looked comfortable and in control throughout the one-hour session. In the opening phases, on the medium tyre, the early running was made by Rosberg as the Red Bull drivers held station in the team’s garage. But when Vettel emerged from pit lane his second timed lap jumped him from P15 to top spot, two tenths clear of Rosberg. Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber slotted into third place with a lap two tenths further back.
Then, when the switch to the quicker soft tyre came with a quarter of an hour left on the clock, Vettel again showed a clean pair of heels to the competition.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was the first to show the pace of the soft tyre, moving into P1 with a lap of 1:30.621, up from a medium-shod best of 1:32.228. Ferrari have been lacking pace throughout the practice sessions, however, and Alonso was quickly eclipsed by Rosberg, who logged a lap almost half a second quicker than the Spaniard.
When Webber, quickest over the first two sectors, lost out in the final stretch to slot into P2 it looked like Mercedes might take the session honours but Vettel was just beginning his run on the soft tyre and by the end of his superb tour he became to the only man to lap under 1:30, registering a time of 1:29.517 to beat Rosberg by an impressive six tenths. Mark Webber was third, just under two hundredths of a second down on the Mercedes man.
Both Mercedes drivers looked troubled by rear-end grip during final practice, with Lewis Hamilton, in particular, appearing uncomfortable. The Briton’s crew spent much time working on the back end of his car during the session but without appreciable gain and Hamilton ended the session in seventh place, behind Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen and the Ferraris of Felipe Massa, fifth, and Alonso.
Romain Grosjean was eighth in the second Lotus, while Nico Hulkenberg gave Sauber something to smile about with ninth place, ahead of Force India’s Adrian Sutil.
The session was largely trouble-free, though Williams’ Pastor Maldonado had a brief off-track moment midway through the session at Turn 7 and later complained to his team that his car was impossible to drive. Maldonado’s woes followed an early-morning KERS failure on his car in the Williams garage that required attentions from the circuit fire marshals.