Jenson Button has staked his claim as the most likely candidate to end Red Bull Racing’s utter domination in qualifying this year, with the McLaren driver claiming a clean sweep by being the fastest driver in all three practice sessions for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Button’s fastest lap – a 1:31.285 – was over half-a-second quicker than team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who finished the session second-fastest, while Sebastian Vettel was three-tenths further adrift, albeit seemingly posting his fastest time with a heavier fuel load.
Fernando Alonso finished the session fourth-fastest, with the top-ten completed by Mark Webber, a wild-driving Felipe Massa, Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg, Vitaly Petrov and Adrian Sutil.
The midfield was a close-fought affair, with the Toro Rosso pairing of Sébastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari just missing out on the top-ten; they were hotly pursued by Kamui Kobayashi, Sergio Pérez and Paul di Resta.
Bruno Senna finished well down in 17th, having heavily crashed his Renault at Spoon early in the session, leaving his mechanics with plenty of work to do to get his battered R31 repaired in time for qualifying.
The Brazilian split the two Williams, who – unless Senna doesn’t take to the track in qualifying – will be duking it out for the embarrassing baton of being eliminated at the first hurdle in qualifying this afternoon. The Grove cars are miles off the pace, having lost plenty of track mileage in Friday practice.
It was a Noah’s Ark formation at the bottom of the timesheets, with the two Lotus entries predictably outperforming their Virgin and HRT rivals – Vitantonio Liuzzi had to park his HRT with mechanical gremlins midway through proceedings.
2011 Japanese Grand Prix – Free Practice 3 Session Times:
|1.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||1:31.285||13|
|2.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||+ 0.507||16|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Renault RB7||+ 0.867||18|
|4.||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari F150° Italia||+ 1.024||16|
|5.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Renault RB7||+ 1.146||14|
|6.||Felipe Massa||Ferrari F150° Italia||+ 1.174||16|
|7.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes GP W02||+ 1.470||19|
|8.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes GP W02||+ 1.623||17|
|9.||Vitaly Petrov||Renault R31||+ 1.803||15|
|10.||Adrian Sutil||Force India Mercedes VJM04||+ 2.169||14|
|11.||Sébastien Buemi||Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6||+ 2.214||18|
|12.||Jaime Alguersuari||Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6||+ 2.290||18|
|13.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C30||+ 2.563||17|
|14.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari C30||+ 2.581||21|
|15.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM04||+ 2.735||16|
|16.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Cosworth FW33||+ 3.066||21|
|17.||Bruno Senna||Renault R31||+ 4.134||5|
|18.||Rubens Barrichello||Williams Cosworth FW33||+ 4.396||18|
|19.||Jarno Trulli||Lotus Renault T128||+ 5.072||16|
|20.||Heikki Kovalainen||Lotus Renault T128||+ 5.657||14|
|21.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02||+ 6.683||17|
|22.||Timo Glock||Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02||+ 6.756||16|
|23.||Daniel Ricciardo||HRT F1 Cosworth F111||+ 7.100||19|
|24.||Vitantonio Liuzzi||HRT F1 Cosworth F111||+ 9.842||8|
[Image via FOM and LAT]