Sebastian Vettel has emerged as a clear favourite for pole position, heading another Red Bull sweep of all practice sessions at the end of the third and final practice for this Sebastian Vettel was quickest again in practiceweekend’s Chinese Grand Prix.

Fastest in both Friday practice sessions, Vettel showed no signs of slowing down and continued to better his lap time with each trip onto the Shanghai International Circuit.

McLaren’s pair of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton’s weren’t too far off Vettel’s ultimate pace.

But it was a poor morning for Mark Webber, who only managed five tours in the sister Red Bull, which was seemingly struck by yet another KERS issue.

A clearly frustrated Mark Webber lost more mileage with another suspected KERS issue Conditions had again cleared in Shanghai in readiness for this morning’s 60-minute session, although it was a cooler day all round, with air and track temperatures reading 15°C and 26°C when the session got underway at 11am local time. The lower temperatures bode well for Pirelli, who have predicted a race of one or two pit stops per driver given the cooler ambient temperatures.

McLaren and Red Bull sat at the top of the timing screens once some serious running got underway after twenty minutes of the session, with Button and then Vettel moving to the top of the order.

The order changed rapidly as more teams emerged to conduct qualifying simulations, with even the likes of Nico Rosberg briefly heading the list at the halfway point for Mercedes GP.

Ultimately Rosberg – whose team has reportedly taken a completely different route to setting up the W02 challenger – finished the session fourth-quickest to give the Silver Arrows plenty of confidence heading into qualifying after the squad endured difficult weekends at the preceding Australian and Malaysian Grands Prix. Could this be the weekend when they turn the corner?

The Ferrari pair of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were fifth- and sixth-fastest respectively, looking much more comfortable in their cars relative to previous sessions, and no doubt optimistic about being able to perform better in this afternoon’s qualifying session.

Renault’s Vitaly Petrov put in a solid effort to finish seventh-fastest, four spots up on team-mate Nick Heidfeld, who managed to keep his car out of the barriers for the first time this weekend.

Sutil activates his DRS Sutil locks up heavily
Force India proved its DRS worked well to go eighth- and tenth-fastest in the session, but it seems stopping is still proving a challenge…

And a big surprise for the session was the pace of Force India, who had both Adrian Sutil and rookie team-mate Paul di Resta finish in the top-ten on the timesheets, splitting Michael Schumacher in ninth. Could they pose a threat to make the Q3 cut?

The bottom of the timesheets was a veritable Noah’s Ark formation headed by the increasingly disappointing Williams squad in 17th and 18th, which fitted Rubens Barrichello’s FW33 with a much-revised exhaust layout. The difference to team-mate Pastor Maldonado was less than 0.3 seconds, which would indicate that the car has far more problems than what was first thought…

Team Lotus was again the quickest of the sophomore outfits, although it’s unlikely to have the pace to move out of Q1 this afternoon.

Meanwhile, Virgin Racing achieved some decent mileage in this session, and moved ahead of Hispania Racing on the timesheets, although Timo Glock was still over 1.7 seconds down on Kovalainen’s quicker Lotus T128.

————————————————————————————————————-

2011 Chinese Grand Prix – Free Practice 3 Session Times:

  Driver   Team Time Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Renault RB7 1:34.968 13
2. Jenson Button GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 + 0.208 15
3. Lewis Hamilton GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 + 0.405 14
4. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes GP W02 + 0.709 18
5. Fernando Alonso ESP Ferrari F150° Italia + 0.850 17
6. Felipe Massa BRZ Ferrari F150° Italia + 1.003 15
7. Vitaly Petrov RUS Renault R31 + 1.130 18
8. Adrian Sutil DEU Force India Mercedes VJM04 + 1.157 15
9. Michael Schumacher DEU Mercedes GP W02 + 1.173 14
10. Paul di Resta GBR Force India Mercedes VJM04 + 1.402 18
11. Nick Heidfeld DEU Renault R31 + 1.436 16
12. Kamui Kobayashi JPN Sauber Ferrari C30 + 1.614 18
13. Sergio Pérez MEX Sauber Ferrari C30 + 1.628 17
14. Sébastien Buemi SUI Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6 + 1.749 16
15. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Renault RB7 + 1.925 5
16. Jaime Alguersuari ESP Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6 + 1.985 14
17. Rubens Barrichello BRZ Williams Cosworth FW33 + 2.039 20
18. Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams Cosworth FW33 + 2.336 18
19. Heikki Kovalainen FIN Lotus Renault T128 + 3.208 12
20. Jarno Trulli ITA Lotus Renault T128 + 3.771 12
21. Timo Glock DEU Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02 + 4.970 17
22. Jérôme d’Ambrosio BEL Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02 + 5.030 16
23. Vitantonio Liuzzi ITA HRT F1 Cosworth F111 + 5.625 17
24. Narain Karthikeyan IND HRT F1 Cosworth F111 + 5.913 18

[Images via Formula1.com]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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