Lewis Hamilton has made it clear that Red Bull Racing might not have it all their own way this weekend at the Malaysian Grand Prix, with the former World Champion breaking Mark Webber’s stranglehold on the top spot of the practice timesheets by Lewis Hamilton going quickest in the third and final free practice session.

Hamilton moved to the top of the timesheets with a soft-tyre qualifying simulation near the end of the 60-minute session, and Webber was unable to beat it when he went out for a hot lap just minutes later.

In a good day for McLaren, Jenson Button hustled his MP4-26 around the Sepang circuit to go third-fastest, while Nick Heidfeld showed a good recovery for Renault by finishing fourth-fastest. Defending race winner Sebastian Vettel was fifth-quickest, losing out to traffic on his last hot lap.

When the teams ran in race trim conditions earlier in the session, it was Vettel who was actually quickest of all on the harder compound Pirelli tyres. The German had some frustrations, however, complaining that he felt his adjustable rear wing did not feel like it was working. His roll-hoop mounted onboard camera also fell off his RB7 in the closing minutes of the session. At the end of the session, however, Vettel was one of the few drivers not to lap quicker than he had in FP2, which could indicate he may have been sandbagging in this session…

Ferrari showed decent pace earlier in the session, although perhaps their switch to soft tyres was timed a little too early, as others moved ahead as the track continued to grip up. Nonetheless, Fernando Alonso finished sixth-fastest, while team-mate Felipe Massa was eighth-fastest, with the pair sandwiching the other Renault of Vitaly Petrov.

Kamui Kobayashi and Michael Schumacher completed the top ten on the timing screens, with the seven-time World Champion just pipping team-mate Nico Rosberg by seven-thousandths of a second.

The time spread between ninth and nineteenth on the timesheets was just over a second, and this chunk of the order was comprised of the Williams, Force India and Toro Rosso drivers.

Pastor Maldonado (14th) managed to just edge out Williams team-mate Rubens Barrichello (16th).

Adrian Sutil managed to lap at a pace close to the other midfield teams, which was not what would have been expected of the Mercedes-powered team leading into this weekend – certainly their own Twitter feed seemed to indicate a degree of surprise as well.

In the sister VJM04, however, Paul di Resta was the slowest of the ‘established team’ runners in 18th, although he suffered two separate spins during the session.

The bottom of the timesheets was a Noah’s Ark arrangement of Team Lotus, Virgin Racing and HRT, with Heikki Kovalainen beating Lotus team-mate Trulli for top honours, with the Finn just 0.4 seconds off di Resta’s pace.

Jérôme d’Ambrosio out-paced his more experienced Virgin Racing team-mate Timo Glock by just under two-tenths of a second.

Not surprisingly, HRT brought up the rear with both Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan lapping over 107% slower than Hamilton’s best lap. Liuzzi managed to out-pace Karthikeyan despite only have six laps of running in his F111 (he was delayed by a water leak), and the Italian was only 0.1 seconds outside the theoretical qualifying margin.

With rain forecast for this afternoon’s qualifying session, it could make predicting the grid arrangement quite a lottery. We’ look forward to bringing our comprehensive coverage of proceedings at the Malaysian Grand Prix!


2011 Malaysian Grand Prix – Free Practice 3 Session Times:

  Driver   Team Time Laps
1. Lewis Hamilton GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 1:36.340 11
2. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Renault RB7 + 0.290 16
3. Jenson Button GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 + 0.422 14
4. Nick Heidfeld DEU Renault R31 + 0.775 17
5. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Renault RB7 + 0.835 14
6. Fernando Alonso ESP Ferrari F150° Italia + 0.944 11
7. Vitaly Petrov RUS Renault R31 + 0.957 17
8. Felipe Massa BRZ Ferrari F150° Italia + 1.422 12
9. Kamui Kobayashi JPN Sauber Ferrari C30 + 1.719 18
10. Michael Schumacher DEU Mercedes GP W02 + 1.960 20
11. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes GP W02 + 1.967 20
12. Sergio Pérez MEX Sauber Ferrari C30 + 2.108 17
13. Adrian Sutil DEU Force India Mercedes VJM04 + 2.124 16
14. Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams Cosworth FW33 + 2.257 15
15. Sébastien Buemi SUI Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6 + 2.325 14
16. Rubens Barrichello BRZ Williams Cosworth FW33 + 2.341 16
17. Jaime Alguersuari ESP Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6 + 2.376 14
18. Paul di Resta GBR Force India Mercedes VJM04 + 2.524 13
19. Heikki Kovalainen FIN Lotus Renault T128 + 2.920 19
20. Jarno Trulli ITA Lotus Renault T128 + 3.359 15
21. Jérôme d’Ambrosio BEL Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02 + 4.875 17
22. Timo Glock DEU Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02 + 5.074 18
23. Vitantonio Liuzzi ITA HRT F1 Cosworth F111 + 6.807 6
24. Narain Karthikeyan IND HRT F1 Cosworth F111 + 7.043 11

[Original image via LAT]

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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.