Jenson Button was fastest in the final practice session at Valencia

Jenson Button has given every indication that his recent poor form could be a thing of the past by posting the fastest time in today’s final practice session at the European Grand Prix, ahead of this afternoon’s all-important qualifying session at the Valencia street circuit.

The Englishman took his McLaren to top spot in the dying minutes of the one-hour session, managing to find just enough clear track on his final soft-tyre qualifying simulation run to move to the top of the timesheets, beating the Lotus runners of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Räikkönen by less than one-tenth of a second.

Nico Hülkenberg and Paul di Resta continued Force India’s very impressive Valencia form into the final session by going fourth- and fifth-quickest in the session, respectively, while Sergio Pérez showed that he could also be a factor with the sixth-fastest time.

With the final hour of free running the last proper opportunity for teams and drivers to bed in their qualifying and race set-ups, track running is crucial. Disaster befell Mark Webber early on, with the Australian grinding to a halt with a mechanical drama after just four laps. He finished the session well down the order, being unable to complete any laps on the softer Pirelli tyres.

It was the siwtch to the softer compound tyre that brought about a flurry of activity in the final half-hour of the session. The two Lotus runners quickly moved to the top of the timesheets and remained there until Button’s excellent effort.

Perhaps tellingly, Sebastian Vettel was on course to claim a provisional top spot, posting the fastest sector times in the first two sectors of the lap before aborting his final run. He was also the quickest runner on the slower medium compound tyres…

All three of the practice sessions have not given a complete picture of the pecking order heading into qualifying and Sunday’s race, which is predicted to occur in baking conditions around the harbourside.

And again we saw over a dozen drivers of the field’s fastest drivers covered by less than a second on the timesheets, which will no doubt lead to a few surprise results in qualifying later today.

Of the four Grands Prix held here to-date, the last three have been won from pole position. With overtaking extremely difficult around the track’s poorly-designed layout, a bad qualifying session could spell the end of some drivers’ weekends…

2012 European Formula 1 Grand Prix – Free Practice 3 Session Times:

Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1. Jenson Button GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-27 1:38.562   17
2. Romain Grosjean FRA Lotus F1 Renault E20 1:38.655 + 0.093 18
3. Kimi Räikkönen FIN Lotus F1 Renault E20 1:38.759 + 0.197 18
4. Nico Hülkenberg DEU Force India Mercedes VJM05 1:38.819 + 0.257 17
5. Paul di Resta GBR Force India Mercedes VJM05 1:38.892 + 0.330 17
6. Sergio Pérez MEX Sauber Ferrari C31 1:39.084 + 0.522 20
7. Michael Schumacher DEU Mercedes AMG F1 W03 1:39.141 + 0.579 15
8. Lewis Hamilton GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-27 1:39.178 + 0.616 17
9. Felipe Massa BRA Scuderia Ferrari F2012 1:39.318 + 0.756 15
10. Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams Renault FW34 1:39.357 + 0.795 18
11. Kamui Kobayashi JPN Sauber Ferrari C31 1:39.358 + 0.796 19
12. Fernando Alonso ESP Scuderia Ferrari F2012 1:39.395 + 0.833 15
13. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Racing Renault RB8 1:39.434 + 0.872 13
14. Bruno Senna BRA Williams Renault FW34 1:39.543 + 0.981 13
15. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes AMG F1 W03 1:39.946 + 1.384 20
16. Jean-Éric Vergne FRA Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7 1:40.037 + 1.475 17
17. Daniel Ricciardo AUS Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7 1:40.134 + 1.572 20
18. Heikki Kovalainen FIN Caterham Renault CT01 1:40.681 + 2.119 15
19. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Racing Renault RB8 1:41.282 + 2.720 4
20. Vitaly Petrov RUS Caterham Renault CT01 1:41.931 + 3.369 15
21. Pedro de la Rosa ESP HRTF1 Cosworth F112 1:42.758 + 4.196 14
22. Charles Pic FRA Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01 1:42.815 + 4.253 16
23. Narain Karthikeyan IND HRTF1 Cosworth F112 1:42.943 + 4.381 14
24. Timo Glock DEU Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01 1:43.124 + 4.562 16

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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.