Jenson Button topped the timesheets in the final free practice session ahead of qualifying in Valencia but Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber will head into the grid shoot-out minus an hour’s set-up work after problems with his car.
Romain Grosjean was the early pace setter on Pirelli’s medium tyre, the Lotus driver setting a time of 1:40.136 to top the time sheet with his opening timed run. He was quickly joined by second-placed team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton. Raikkonen then moved into first only for Hamilton to ursurp him with his next run.
Down in 12th, though, was Mark Webber and after his first run the Red Bull driver returned to the garage where frantic activity began at the front end of his car. It was work that would continue until the end of the session.
The mid-point of the session was marked by Sebastian Vettel leaping to the top of the table with a lap of 1:39.448. It was a time that would remain the best set on the medium tyres.
Thereafter, it was down to how the qualifying simulations on the yellow-banded Soft tyres would play out. Grosjean was the first to show and promptly roared ahead of Vettel by almost eight tenths of a second. Raikkonen quickly slotted into third and the rest of the field gradually abandoned the harder tyre and chased a quick lap.
In the end it was Button who emerged as the session’s quickest man, the McLaren driver recording a lap of 1:38.562, to end the hour 0.093 of a second ahead of Grosjean, whose first soft run time stood until the end. They were followed by Raikkonen, two tenths back, and then the impressive-looking Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg, fourth, and Paul Di Resta, fifth. Sergio Perez was sixth, half a second off Button’s pace. The Sauber driver was followed by Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado, who completed the top ten.
In a disjointed final flurry several potential front-runners were caught out by either traffic or incidents. Fernando Alonso finished 12th after getting caught behind a Marussia and on his final run suffering a lock-up that saw him briefly slide off. Sebastian Vettel’s final run was compromised when he locked up into Turn Two and was forced to use the escape road.