Sepang Practice 3: Rosberg quickest sets scene for hot qualifying

Nico Rosberg

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 during practice for the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix at the Sepang Circuit on March 23, 2012 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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