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 weekend’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.
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.
|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:
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Renault RB7||1:34.968||13|
|2.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||+ 0.208||15|
|3.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||+ 0.405||14|
|4.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes GP W02||+ 0.709||18|
|5.||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari F150° Italia||+ 0.850||17|
|6.||Felipe Massa||Ferrari F150° Italia||+ 1.003||15|
|7.||Vitaly Petrov||Renault R31||+ 1.130||18|
|8.||Adrian Sutil||Force India Mercedes VJM04||+ 1.157||15|
|9.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes GP W02||+ 1.173||14|
|10.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM04||+ 1.402||18|
|11.||Nick Heidfeld||Renault R31||+ 1.436||16|
|12.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C30||+ 1.614||18|
|13.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari C30||+ 1.628||17|
|14.||Sébastien Buemi||Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6||+ 1.749||16|
|15.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Renault RB7||+ 1.925||5|
|16.||Jaime Alguersuari||Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6||+ 1.985||14|
|17.||Rubens Barrichello||Williams Cosworth FW33||+ 2.039||20|
|18.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Cosworth FW33||+ 2.336||18|
|19.||Heikki Kovalainen||Lotus Renault T128||+ 3.208||12|
|20.||Jarno Trulli||Lotus Renault T128||+ 3.771||12|
|21.||Timo Glock||Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02||+ 4.970||17|
|22.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02||+ 5.030||16|
|23.||Vitantonio Liuzzi||HRT F1 Cosworth F111||+ 5.625||17|
|24.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRT F1 Cosworth F111||+ 5.913||18|
[Images via Formula1.com]