Although Sebastian Vettel topped the timing sheets ahead of qualifying, it looks like his pole position ambition is not another foregone conclusion as Romain Grosjean has emerged as a likely challenger after the third and final free practice session of the Singapore Grand Prix weekend.
Red Bull are looking very strong in both hot lap pace and race pace around the tricky Marina Bay Circuit. They topped the timing screens for the first 45 minutes of the one hour session when everyone had the harder white band Pirelli tyres bolted on, and again in the qualifying simulation runs in the final dozen minutes of the session.
The gap between them and their rivals in terms of race pace is perhaps not as big as the gap they have with low fuel loads and the Soft tyres mounted to the RB9. Nevertheless, the truth is that they are quicker in both guises which will be a worry for any other title contenders who simply had no answer a few hours before qualifying.
Vettel’s best time of 1:44.173 was 0.191 up on Grosjean who seems to be a man transformed so far this weekend, as the news of Kimi Raikkonen’s defection to Ferrari may be giving him the stimulus to raise his game and convince his employers that he is the man to lead the team next year – or perhaps even from this weekend in Singapore.
Whatever the case, the Frenchman, who had a heavily curtailed programme on the opening day due to technical niggles, is in inspired form. He was over a 1.783 seconds up on teammate Raikkonen who was 12th when the chequered flag waved to end the session.
Nico Rosberg was fastest of the Merecdes pair, in third, with Lewis Hamilton fifth. The Silver Arrows expected to challenge Red Bull on the high downforce circuit which should suit their W04. But they will be seeking to close down the half second or so gap to Vettel in the two hours between FP3 and qualifying…
Splitting the Mercedes was Mark Webber who was hampered by traffic on his one stab at a fast lap, but earlier he had spent much of the session at the top of the timing screens having set the pace with the harder tyres.
Ferrari also closed the gap to Vettel but were still a second adrift of his ultimate pace, as opposed to 1.4 seconds 24 hours earlier. Fernando Alonso was sixth, with Felipe Massa 10th. The Brazilian admitted that finding an optimum setup for the demands of Marina Bay was proving to be a tough task.
Seventh fastest was Sergio Perez, best of the McLaren boys, with Jenson Button ninth fastest. An interesting tussle is brewing between the two teammates.
Swiss cheese in the McLaren sandwich was Nico Hulkenberg who again is driving the Sauber beyond its remit – consider that his teammate Esteban Gutierrez ended the session down in 17th and a full second down on the German.
At the sharp end, Vettel remains the man to beat – the gap has come down between the Red Bulls and the rest, thus setting the scene for a couple of interesting nights ahead – starting with qualifying! (GP247)
Subbed by AJN.
Singapore Grand Prix at Marina Bay Circuit, Free Practice 3 – 21 September 2013
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:44.173||15|
|4||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:44.906||0.733||14|
|16||14||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:46.879||2.706||16|
|18||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1:47.249||3.076||19|
|19||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||1:48.931||4.758||17|