Spa Practice 3: Alonso sets the pace as the sun shines at last

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F2012. Formula One World Championship, Rd12, Belgian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Saturday 1 September 2012.

Fernando Alonso fastest at the end of FP3

Sep.1 (GP247) Fernando Alonso has become something of a  stuck record these days, harping on about how the Ferrari F2012 is not the best car on the grid, but under sunny skies at Spa-Francorchamps it was the best piece of kit out there and propelled the Spaniard to top of the timing screens in the final free practice session of the Belgian GP.

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus E20. Formula One World Championship, Rd12, Belgian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Saturday 1 September 2012.At last the sun came out in the Ardennes and F1 cars were unleashed in anger around the fabled Spa circuit where Alonso has yet to win a grand prix, and on Saturday morning the championship leader looked a strong candidate for race day victory.

Second fastest was the man whom he replaced at Ferrari at the start of 2010; Kimi Raikkonen in the black and gold Lotus is targeting his fifth win at the venue and going about the early business with the attitude of a man intent on victory.

Also strong were the Sauber pair, Ferrari power clearly at home in the forest circuit, with Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi third and fourth respectively. Perez was the first to dip into the 109 seconds zone, shortly after the halfway mark.

Needing a very strong weekend at Spa is Jenson Button, who ended the one hour session fifth fastest and best of the Mercedes powered brigade.

Half a second down on his Spanish teammate was Brazilian Felipe Massa in the other Ferrari, and setting the sixth best time ahead of the Renault powered trio of Mark Webber (Red Bull), Romain Grosjean (Lotus) and Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull).

Sergio Perez Sauber Formula One World Championship, Rd12, Belgian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Saturday 1 September 2012.Both the Red Bulls showed handy top speed – not too common with the world champions lately, with Webber driving with the knowledge that he has a five place grid penalty thanks to an unscheduled gearbox change.

Rounding out the top ten was Paul di Resta in the Force India, making it ten drivers within one second of the top time – 0.840 seconds to be precise – as close as ever!

On the back foot from almost word go was Nico Rosberg who parked his Mercedes after five laps with what appeared to be a transmission problem, the car apparently stuck in sixth gear.

His team mate Michael Schumacher, taking part in his 300th grand prix weekend, ended the session 13th fastest.

The fastest laps came in the last few minutes as drivers did their qualy simulation runs,  with Alonso going tops with a slightly ragged lap which was nevertheless better than anyone else was capable of.

But there are still a couple of unknowns in the plot, particularly what the McLaren boys have up their sleeves for qualifying and beyond, because Lewis Hamilton is in far better shape than his 12th place on the timing screens suggests…

Subbed by AJN.

Belgian Grand Prix, Free Practice 3 – Saturday, 1 September 2012

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:48.542 18
2 9 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:48.683 0.141 21
3 15 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1:48.850 0.308 23
4 14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:48.863 0.321 20
5 3 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:49.091 0.549 18
6 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:49.092 0.550 16
7 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:49.164 0.622 21
8 10 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:49.266 0.724 23
9 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:49.292 0.750 23
10 11 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:49.382 0.840 22
11 18 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:49.561 1.019 23
12 4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:49.615 1.073 19
13 7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:49.621 1.079 26
14 12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:49.674 1.132 23
15 17 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:49.710 1.168 21
16 16 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:49.776 1.234 22
17 19 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1:50.027 1.485 20
18 20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1:52.339 3.797 21
19 25 Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1:52.566 4.024 20
20 24 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1:52.630 4.088 18
21 21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1:52.809 4.267 22
22 22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1:53.383 4.841 22
23 23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1:53.562 5.020 23
24 8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:58.113 9.571 5