Mark Webber finished at the top of the timesheet in final practice ahead of qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix as team-mate Sebastian Vettel encountered problems at Suzuka.
Following the hard tyre running that made up the bulk of the session – in which Webber was second fastest behind Lotus’ Romain Grosjean – the Red Bull driver bolted on the option medium tyre and promptly set the morning’s fastest time, a lap of 1:32.053. Grosjean and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who had looked impressive in the earlier phase of the session, had no answer to that and it was left to Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton to take the fight to Webber with their final runs.
Rosberg got close, lapping in 1:32.355, but Hamilton, in the final moments, looked like he might topple Webber after he set the session’s best time through the high-speed first sector. His pace tailed off later in the lap, however, and he ended the session in P2, 0.134 down on Webber.
While the Australian was enjoying his time on the medium tyre, on the other side of the Red Bull garage Sebastian Vettel wasn’t getting the chance to sample the Pirelli compound in qualifying spec.
After setting the fourth fastest time of the session on the hard tyre, Vettel steered his car back to the garage and as his crew began to work on his RB9 to cure a suspected KERS issue, Vettel climbed out of the cockpit and disappeared to change out of his race suit, his session over.
With Webber fastest, followed by the Mercedes of Hamilton and Rosberg, fourth place went to Grosjean. Fernando Alonso was fifth for Ferrari, with team-mate Felipe Massa sixth. Jenson Button was seventh-fastest for McLaren, ahead of Raikkonen, Vettel and 10th-placed Nico Hulkenberg of Sauber.
In a largely trouble-free session the only incident of note befell Adrian Sutil. The Force India driver lost control at the exit of Spoon corner and slide into the barriers. The impact tore off his car’s nosecone but there otherwise appeared to be little damage done.
2013 Japanese Grand Prix Free Practice Three times
1 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 1:32.053
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:32.187 +0.134
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:32.355 +0.302
4 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:32.707 +0.654
5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:32.800 +0.747
6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:32.815 +0.762
7 Jenson Button McLaren 1:32.869 +0.816
8 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:32.946 +0.893
9 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 1:33.036 +0.983
10 Nico Hülkenberg Sauber 1:33.076 +1.023
11 Sergio Pérez McLaren 1:33.158 +1.105
12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:33.260 +1.207
13 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:33.490 +1.437
14 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:33.638 +1.585
15 Paul di Resta Force India 1:33.660 +1.607
16 Esteban Gutiérrez Sauber 1:33.73 +1.679
17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:33.955 +1.902
18 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:34.773 +2.720
19 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:35.473 +3.420
20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:35.518 +3.465
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:35.844 +3.791
22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:39.378 +7.325