Sepang Practice 3: Rosberg quickest sets scene for hot qualifying 24 March, 2012 Nico Rosberg was fastest in the third practice session at Sepang Mar.24 (PVM) Nico Rosberg topped the final free practice session of the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend at Sepang to set the scene for a fascinating qualifying shoot out later in the day with as many as a eight drivrs with a shot at top slot on the grid – although one of them will drop five places after qualifying… Sebastian Vettel second fastest McLaren are likely to have ammo to spare, which they will probably unleash in the important afternoon session; the likes of Red Bull, Lotus and of course Mercedes will also fancy a shot at pole when the chips are down and the pressure on in Q3. Meanwhile, Rosberg confirmed that the Mercedes W03 is pretty handy in short hot lap bursts and could well be heading for their first pole in the modern era of F1 as they attempt to emulate their golden age at the pinnacle of the sport in the fifties. The Red Bull pair made their presence felt with Sebastian Vettel second and Mark Webber third fastest; Vettel 0.443 seconds off Rosberg’s best. Up next were the Lotus pair – the team having an incident packed early morning in Sepang after a fire engulfed their hospitality area (report here>>>). On track Raikkonen’s car required a gearbox change which means the Finn will drop five places on the grid and, compounding the frustration, is the fact that he is still not to 100% comfortable with the steering on the E20. Raikkonen still uncomfortable in the Lotus E20 cockpit Nevertheless the black and gold cars were fourth and fifth at the end of the session – Raikkonen fractionally faster than teammate Romain Grosjean. Australia winner Jenson Button was sixth fastest in the McLaren MP4-27, with Lewis Hamilton ninth quickest - but the smart money will be on the Vodafone backed duo to do the business in qualifying. For sure their big guns were not rolled out in the practice session. Notably Hamilton did only eight laps, least of all, in the session. Again showing handy pace – and a huge leap forward from last year were Williams. Both Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna at the sharp end of proceedings during the course of the session. Maldonado ending the seventh and Senna 12th fastest. Michael Schumacher was 0.899 seconds down on Mercedes teammate Rosberg, but was one of the nine drivers within a second of the top pace. Fastest Ferrari powered driver – again not a red car – was Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber who rounded out the top ten, while the boys from Maranello endure another torrid couple of days in the early stage of their already compromised 2012 campaign. Fernando Alonso was 13th on the timing screens and Felipe Massa down in 18th… Subbed by AJN. Free Practice 3 – Sepang, 24 March 2012 Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps 1 8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:36.877 16 2 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:37.320 0.443 15 3 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:37.338 0.461 12 4 9 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:37.356 0.479 13 5 10 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:37.382 0.505 13 6 3 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:37.404 0.527 12 7 18 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:37.455 0.578 13 8 7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:37.663 0.786 15 9 4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:37.776 0.899 8 10 14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:37.977 1.100 17 11 19 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1:38.091 1.214 20 12 15 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.178 1.301 15 13 5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:38.246 1.369 17 14 12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:38.285 1.408 16 15 16 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:38.423 1.546 13 16 17 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:38.640 1.763 11 17 11 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:38.794 1.917 18 18 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:39.209 2.332 16 19 21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1:39.704 2.827 15 20 20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1:40.189 3.312 14 21 25 Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1:41.901 5.024 14 22 24 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1:42.007 5.130 14 23 22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1:42.464 5.587 14 24 23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1:43.378 6.501 17 Related NewsTech Talk: Exactly what did Mercedes have in their bag of tricks for Malaysia?Hamilton: We learned a lot from practice and that is why I blew Nico awayMercedes rivals fear that the gap will be hard to closeMercedes: We cannot afford to be complacent as the competition are right behind usRosberg: I was trying to chase Lewis but he was a bit too quick todayMercedes: It doesn’t get any better than a one-two finishMarko accuses Rosberg of not using his mirrors in QualifyingMercedes: The team ran a calm session, making the right calls at the right timeRosberg admits team orders may be inevitableSepang exposes tyre degradation as a weakness in Mercedes armoury Matthias O’keeffe Congratz to Michael Schumacher on 3rd place.