Sepang Practice 3: Vettel fastest from Hamilton

Sebastian Vettel topped the timing screens in FP3 at Sepang

Sebastian Vettel topped the timing screens in FP3 at Sepang

World champion Sebastian Vettel, in the Red Bull RB9, topped the final free practice session of the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend with a strong showing in the one hour session prior to all important qualifying, with Lewis Hamilton showing strong pace to clock the second best time.

Vettel left it late in the session to bang down his best time which was 0.133 up on the next best, and exactly the difference to Kimi Raikkonen’s best the previous day – in other words no one has gone faster around Sepang thus far this weekend than the champion. Mark Webber was fourth fastest.

Clearly the RB9 boasts great one lap pace, the question is: can they harness this performance and make the tyres last in the race and enable them to win?

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes W04

After a relatively subdued opening day for Mercedes powered drivers, Hamilton had his race face on as each time he went out his lap times were at the top end of the screens.

Next up in third, and reveling in his return to the sport after a one year lay-off, was Adrian Sutil in the Force India. Teammate Paul di Resta was sixth.

Some set-up changes overnight to his Lotus E21 were apparently not for the better as Kimi Raikkonen – who lit up day one – ended fifth fastest 0.371 down on Vettel’s best and also down on his FP2 best lap time.

It’s been doom and gloom in the McLaren pit from the very first official practice in Australia, and perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel for the Woking squad as Jenson Button ended the session seventh fastest in the MP4-28, the Woking squad’s best showing thus far this season. Sergio Perez was 12th.

Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India VJM06

Adrian Sutil Force India VJM06

Ferrari were working to their own programme where hot laps did not appear to be on their low key agenda. As a result Felipe Massa ended eighth best, with Fernando Alonso 10th.

Splitting the reds, in ninth, was Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes.

FP3 had the air of a cat-and-mouse affair, with no one really showing their hand ahead of what is likely to be an intriguing qualifying where Red Bull should be the team to beat for that crucial top spot slot.

Free Practice 3 Results, Sepang – Saturday, 23 March 2013 

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:36.435 20
2 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:36.568 0.133 17
3 15 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:36.588 0.153 19
4 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:36.613 0.178 20
5 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:36.806 0.371 19
6 14 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:36.807 0.372 18
7 5 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:36.822 0.387 16
8 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:36.946 0.511 14
9 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:36.949 0.514 25
10 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:37.302 0.867 14
11 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:37.359 0.924 11
12 6 Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1:37.538 1.103 12
13 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1:37.685 1.250 23
14 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:37.690 1.255 14
15 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1:37.936 1.501 16
16 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.294 1.859 17
17 18 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:38.376 1.941 16
18 19 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:38.425 1.990 15
19 20 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1:38.995 2.560 18
20 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1:39.717 3.282 21
21 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1:40.209 3.774 18
22 23 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1:40.495 4.060 18