The Red Bull team has brought the fight right to McLaren in the third and final practice session before this afternoon’s all-important qualifying session ahead of Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
Many eyes were on the weather radars during the 1-hour practice session that started at 1pm local time, with many predicting that rain would fall midway through the session.
With the threat of rain growing more likely, many teams opted to run their soft tyres early in the session, but the relative lack of grip coupled with the rain not falling at all meant their efforts were fruitless.
It was only in the second half of the session that the timesheets really began to light up, with Lewis Hamilton again taking over the mantle with 25 minutes still to run, knocking Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari off top spot.
It looked like Lewis would remain on top of the timing monitors for the remainder of the session, until Red Bull pulled some quick times out of the bag in the final three minutes of the session when performing their qualifying simulations.
Webber lapped quickest with a 1:33.542, and it looked like Vettel would beat his Australian team-mate’s time until he encountered traffic in the final sector. That he managed a time just under 0.05s slower was itself very impressive.
Alonso lapped fourth-quickest after his Ferrari finally found some pace in qualifying trim, and he finished ahead of Michael Schumacher, who headed his Mercedes GP team-mate Nico Rosberg for the first time this weekend. Completing the top-ten were Jenson Button, Felipe Massa, Rubens Barrichello (who also found pace in his Williams) and Robert Kubica.
It was a trouble-free session for most drivers, but a couple still had a few hair-raising moments. Heikki Kovalainen damaged his front wing and lost a bargeboard on the saw-toothed kerbs; Vitaly Petrov took a trip through the kitty litter, Vettel lodged debris in his front wing and Jaime Alguersuari had a spin in his Toro Rosso.
Assuming a dry qualifying session, it would look like a tight fight between the McLarens and Red Bulls, with Mercedes GP probably third-quickest of the teams.
But rain looks set to definitely hit the circuit, making the three knockout sessions very interesting. There will definitely be some losers in qualifying, and some of the lower teams might spring a few surprises! I can’t wait!
2010 Malaysian GP Practice 3 Session Times:
[Original image via GP Update]