Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull sent out an ominous warning to the rest of the field, and McLaren in particular, with a powerful display in final practice at Suzuka. The world champion pipped teammate Mark Webber on his final lap of the morning with both McLarens finishing down the order after being baulked on their option tyre runs.
Right from their first runs of FP3, McLaren and Red Bull resumed their head-to-head battle on the harder tyre. Jenson Button was the first to light up the timing screen with a 1:33.621, moving him ahead of early leader Pastor Maldonado, before Lewis Hamilton pipped him by 0.052s moments later. Vettel ventured out for his opening run slightly later than the McLarens and when he got up to speed, pulled out a three tenth advantage.
Another day brought another repair job for Force India with Nico Hulkenberg doing the damage this time. The German lost the back end of the VJM05 at Degner 2 with twenty minutes remaining and piled into the tyre wall, damaging the front left corner of the car and leaving his mechanics with a race against time to ready it for qualifying.
Once the stricken Force India had been cleared, the option tyre runs began with Michael Schumacher breaking into the 1:32s for Mercedes. Michael inadvertently destroyed any chance of Jenson Button beating his time three minutes from the end after holding the McLaren up through 130R but Lewis Hamilton came even closer to an accident on his hot lap.
Hamilton was already a tenth up on Schumacher before he arrived at 130R but when he emerged on the other side of the high-speed left hander, came across a dawdling Charles Pic. With the Marussia cruising on the racing line, Hamilton’s reactions were given a stern test as he dived up the inside and through the escape road.
The McLarens were unable to do better than eighth and thirteenth after their difficulties which opened the door for Red Bull to lock out the top two positions. Webber had gone substantially quicker than Schumacher on a 1:32.371 but Vettel’s last gasp effort lowered the target time by another quarter of a second, a time nobody could get near.
Felipe Massa gave Ferrari a welcome boost by sneaking in front of Schumacher for third with the Saubers of Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi completing the top six. Romain Grosjean took seventh for Lotus ahead of Button, Paul Di Resta and Pastor Maldonado with championship leader Fernando Alonso a disappointing eleventh ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and a livid Hamilton.