Lewis Hamilton can count himself as a strong contender to claim a ‘moral’ pole position in this afternoon’s qualifying session, with the 2008 champion – who will lose five grid spots for changing his gearbox – leading Jenson Button to a McLaren 1-2 in final practice for the Chinese Grand Prix.
The weather was appreciably warmer than yesterday’s chilly, overcast conditions, and the cars from Woking proved dominant in front of a still-thin crowd at the Shanghai International Circuit.
The action really got going when the drivers made their customary switch to Pirelli’s softer tyre compound to perform some qualifying simulations, with the Mercedes pairing of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher heading the timesheets until Hamilton and Button emerged for their final runs.
Mark Webber finished the session fifth-quickest in his Red Bull RB8, while team-mate Sebastian Vettel finished up ninth-quickest – the German’s fastest time came on the harder rubber while he lost some track time having a new torsion bar fitted in his rear suspension.
Pastor Maldonado was a somewhat surprising sixth-fastest in his Williams, ahead of the Saubers of Sergio Pérez and Kamui Kobayashi, who were the fastest drivers through the speed trap in this session.
An oversteering Kimi Räikkönen headed a Lotus and Force India train on the timing screens, and he was followed by Nico Hülkenberg, Romain Grosjean and Paul di Resta, who had a wild lock-up under braking at the hairpin on his last flying lap.
Bruno Senna was 14th-fastest in the sister Williams, while Fernando Alonso was only 15th-fastest, no doubt praying that Ferrari can muster up some more wet weather, which will be the only way the F2012 proves competitive here. Team-mate Felipe Massa finished a lowly 18th-quickest, with the Ferraris sandwiching the two Toro Rosso drivers.
The last six places showed their traditional Noah’s Ark formation of the two Caterhams (Vitaly Petrov ahead of Heikki Kovalainen, for a change), followed by the two Marussia entries and the two HRTs, which lapped comfortably within the theoretical 107% cut-off time.
Qualifying gets underway at 2:00pm local time, and based on the form seen across the three sessions, it would be a surprise to see anything other than a McLaren on pole for tomorrow’s 56-lap race.
2012 Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix – Free Practice 3 Session Times:
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||1:35.940||13|
|2.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||1:36.063||+ 0.123||12|
|3.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||1:36.389||+ 0.449||16|
|4.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||1:36.512||+ 0.572||17|
|5.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||1:36.635||+ 0.695||16|
|6.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault FW34||1:36.765||+ 0.825||17|
|7.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari C31||1:36.781||+ 0.841||19|
|8.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C31||1:36.880||+ 0.940||17|
|9.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||1:37.039||+ 1.099||15|
|10.||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus F1 Renault E20||1:37.061||+ 1.121||17|
|11.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes VJM05||1:37.237||+ 1.297||16|
|12.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault E20||1:37.274||+ 1.334||16|
|13.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM05||1:37.288||+ 1.348||16|
|14.||Bruno Senna||Williams Renault FW34||1:37.425||+ 1.485||14|
|15.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||1:37.465||+ 1.525||12|
|16.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||1:37.493||+ 1.553||13|
|17.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||1:37.628||+ 1.688||14|
|18.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||1:37.831||+ 1.891||14|
|19.||Vitaly Petrov||Caterham Renault CT01||1:38.701||+ 2.761||19|
|20.||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham Renault CT01||1:39.198||+ 3.258||19|
|21.||Timo Glock||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||1:39.796||+ 3.856||18|
|22.||Charles Pic||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||1:40.048||+ 4.108||17|
|23.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||1:41.263||+ 5.323||14|
|24.||Pedro de la Rosa||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||1:41.499||+ 5.559||18|