Sebastian Vettel left his ascent to the top of the timesheets until late in the session during Saturday morning’s final free practice session. When cars came out on Medium tyres in the final 15 minutes of the hour, Lewis Hamilton was in top spot with a time of 1:37.492. With two minutes remaining Vettel, seemingly without trouble, simply accelerated away from the field with two laps under the 1m:37s barrier. The first of which, 1:36.490, was the fastest of the morning. Hamilton responded on his final tour, closing the gap to two-tenths with 1:36.748 but Vettel was secure in his lead.
Behind Vettel and Hamilton, Pastor Maldonado was third for Williams, ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso (4th), Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg (5th), Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari (6th), Mark Webber in the second Red Bull (7th), Sergio Pérez for Sauber (8th), Force India’s Nico Hülkenberg (9th) with McLaren’s Jenson Button rounding-out the top ten.
The session began in bracing conditions. The 0900 start meaning the sun had not long been above the surrounding hills and the track was still a chilly 16°C. Pirelli were candid in saying a Soft-Supersoft combination would have been more suitable than the Hard and Medium tyres they have brought. Combined with the cold track it led to an on-going fight to get tyres into the working range that carried on all session but was particularly prevalent in the early running.
Vettel and Webber, fastest men in FP2 did not appear from the garage until shortly before the halfway point. If Red Bull were waiting for the track temp to rise, they would have been disappointed as it actually began to fall, bottoming out at 14°C. Nico Rosberg, his Mercedes reveling in the unusual conditions, was fastest at that point with a lap of 1:38.221.
Attention was distracted from the emergence of the Red Bulls as Pérez and Charles Pic’s Marussia tangled. Approaching a corner on different lines and at vastly different speeds, the Sauber ploughed into the side of the Marussia. Theirs was the only collision though the session was peppered with fist-shaking and several near-misses.
The session was not a good one for France. In addition to Pic, Romain Grosjean had mechanical problems which left him only able to complete 11 laps and ultimately requiring a new gearbox for his Lotus. Also, Jean-Eric Vergne retired out on track, after damaging his suspension on the kerbs.
When the session drew to a close, Bruno Senna was 11th for Williams, followed by Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes (12th), and the Lotus of Kimi Räikkönen (13th). Kamui Kobayashi was 14th for Sauber, ahead of Daniel Riccardo for Toro Rosso (15th). Paul di Resta in the second Force India was 16th and Grosjean had done enough early in the session for 17th. Vergne’s Toro Rosso was 18th, ahead of the six backmarkers who lined up with Glock 19th for Marussia, Petrov 20th for Caterham, ahead of team-mate Heikki Kovalainen (21st) and Pic (22nd). Bringing up the rear were the HRTs of de la Rosa (23rd) and Narain Karthikeyan (24th).