Sebastian Vettel has completed a clean sweep of practice sessions, by going fastest in Free Practice Three. However, unlike yesterday, he was not dominant with Lewis Hamilton managing to get to within two tenths of a second of his time at the end of the hour.
The session was once again littered with incidents as drivers continue to push the limit on this brand new circuit. Michael Schumacher came close to colliding with Felipe Massa in the early part of the session, but one of the main talking points was Sergio Perez’s incident with Charles Pic.
Perez was on a hot lap and came up behind the slow Marussia car in the first sector, and attempted to pass before Pic turned in. Both spun off the circuit but thankfully escaped without any major damage. It is unclear at this stage what action the FIA will take with penalising either driver.
With the track temperature being as much as five degrees colder than yesterday, many drivers were complaining about struggling to get heat in their tyres. Ferrari sat out the early part of the session as they let other cars rubber the track in as they focused on pit stop practice.
However, this strategy almost put Ferrari on the back foot going into qualifying. Jean-Eric Vergne suffered an apparent suspension failure after hitting a curb in the first sector, bringing out yellow flags for some considerable time. With only a few minutes of the session remaining, both Ferrari men were down in seventeenth and nineteenth, but improved to third and fifth fastest respectively for Alonso and Massa by the end.
It appeared as if Vettel was going to dominate the session once again however, as in the closing stages he set a lap time on option tyres that was just over a second quicker than what Hamilton could manage. Most drivers managed to find an improvement however, with Hamilton coming close to matching Vettel’s time of 1:36.490. Pastor Maldonado was a surprise third place despite suffering from oversteer towards the end of the lap.
The top ten then, were Vettel, Hamilton, Maldonado, Alonso, Rosberg, Massa, Webber, Perez, Hulkenberg and Button, who set the pace for most the session.
Drivers continued to find turn nineteen tricky, with as yesterday many cars running wide at that corner. It sets up the prospect for an exciting qualifying session, which starts at 6pm UK time.