Barcelona Practice 3: Vettel peaking at the right time

Sebastian Vettel fastest in FP3

Sebastian Vettel fastest in FP3

May 12 (GP247) World champion Sebastian Vettel flirted with the top of timing screens in FP1 and FP2, but in the final free practice of the Spanish Grand Prix weekend the Red Bull driver was fastest and appears to be peaking at exactly the right time while McLaren, Lotus and Mercedes struggled with various issues, while midfield teams  Sauber and Williams showed impressive pace.

Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Williams FW34. Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice, Barcelona, Spain, Friday 11 May 2012.

Pastor Maldonado was second quickest

Vettel left it until the very end of the session, to pop in a 1 minute 23.168 seconds – the best lap of the weekend thus far around the Circuit de Catalunya in hotter than normal conditions for this time of the year in Barcelona.

Showing a good turn of speed on the soft tyres was Pastor Maldonado who ended second fastest in the Williams FW34, but teammate Bruno Senna failed to match the pace set by the Venezuelan by a whopping one second – ending the session 14th.

The surprise package this weekend, and the ones to watch in the race, were the Sauber pair who topped the timing screens 1-2 with a few minutes to go. Both Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez quick and comfortable in the Ferrari powered C31. Kobayashi was third fastest and Perez fifth.

Splitting the Sauber boys was Mark Webber who went fifth quickest, suggesting that the Red Bull pair are going to be the team to beat in Spain once again – both in qualifying and the race. They have won the last two grands prix in Barcelona, Vettel last year and Webber in 2010.

Kamui Kobayashi (JPN) Sauber C31. Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice, Barcelona, Spain, Friday 11 May 2012.

Kamui Kobayashi third quickest

Again out paced by one of their customers, Ferrari’s best was Fernando Alonso in the F2012 who ended the session sixth quickest with teammate Felipe Massa about half a second slower, down in 11th.

The last time a Ferrari started from pole position was with Alonso at the 2010 Singapore Grand Prix.

Rookie Jean-Eric Vergne, another one to shake up the form book, was seventh fastest in the Toro Rosso also ending the hour session half a second up on his teammate Daniel Ricciardo.

Jenson Button was fastest of the Mercedes powered drivers in eighth, the Friday pace setter struggling with grip as the team seek the fine line between understeer and oversteer on the MP4-27. From the outside it appears that the Woking squad have taken a step backwards in the space of one day. Lewis Hamilton was 16th on the timing sheets, his best lap seriously baulked by traffic.

Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB8. Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice, Barcelona, Spain, Friday 11 May 2012.

Mark Webber fourth fastest

The McLaren duo will have to toil hard and do something special if they are to notch up the team’s 150th pole position.

Also falling out of the front running zone were the Lotus pair, with Kimi Raikkonen ending the session ninth while teammate Romain Grosjean did two timed laps in his E20 before it spluttered to a halt with an electrical problem. he did nottake part again. Like McLaren, the Enstone boys find themselves on the back-foot after starting the weekend strongly just 24 hours earlier.

Nico Rosberg rounded out the top ten in his Mercedes, he was also the last driver within one second of Vettel’s best. Team mate Michael Schumacher was 17th.

The final free practice of the Spanish Grand Prix weekend only helped confuse any type of prediction ahead of qualifying and the race. A day earlier McLaren, Mercedes, Lotus and of course Red Bull all looked like contenders.

Now, ahead of qualifying Red Bull are outright favourites for pole position, and even annexing the entire front row – with the likes of Sauber and Williams possibly springing a big surprise at the expense of the grandee teams.

Spanish Grand Prix: Food for thought:

  • Top three in Barcelona qualifying last year

    Top three after Barcelona qualifying last year

    Nine of the last 10 Spanish Grands Prix have been won from pole position, and 16 of the past 21, making it the most predictable race on the calendar.

  • Last year’s broke a sequence, with Red Bull’s Mark Webber on pole and Vettel winning on a four stop strategy.
  • Webber is chasing a third Spanish GP pole in a row.
  • Double world champion Alonso is the only Spaniard to have won a Formula One Grand Prix. He won his home race in 2006 with Renault.
  • Michael Schumacher has won the Spanish Grand Prix more times than anyone else (six). He is also the only driver to have won in Barcelona without starting on the front row (in 1996).
  • Ferrari are the most successful team at the Circuit de Catalunya with seven wins in 21 years.
  • Six different drivers have won over the past six years.

Free Practice 3 – Saturday, 12 May 2012

Pos No Driver Team Time/Retired Gap Laps
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:23.168   13
2 18 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:23.336 0.168 19
3 14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:23.350 0.182 19
4 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:23.578 0.410 16
5 15 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1:23.742 0.574 22
6 5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:23.807 0.639 15
7 17 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:23.833 0.665 14
8 3 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:23.909 0.741 13
9 9 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:23.936 0.768 16
10 8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:24.070 0.902 24
11 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:24.179 1.011 16
12 12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:24.323 1.155 17
13 16 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:24.331 1.163 15
14 19 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1:24.409 1.241 18
15 11 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:24.599 1.431 15
16 4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:24.778 1.610 15
17 7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:24.825 1.657 17
18 21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1:25.911 2.743 20
19 20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1:26.587 3.419 20
20 25 Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1:27.469 4.301 18
21 24 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1:27.689 4.521 16
22 23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1:28.207 5.039 24
23 22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1:28.373 5.205 13
24 10 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault No time   2