One thing is certain at Sepang: Mercedes have the upper hand and their rivals could be looking at a full second deficit to the Silver Arrow,s as Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton hogged the top of the timing sheets at the end of the third and final free practice session of the Malaysian grand Prix weekend.
Rosberg powered around Sepang International Circuit in a best lap time of 1:39.008, which was almost a second up on his best time in FP2.
Hamilton was 0.232 of a second down on his teammate, the pair the only two to dip below the 100 seconds mark in the morning session.
Next best in third was Kimi Raikkonen, again trumping his Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso who ended the session seventh fastest, the Spaniard over half a second down on the Finn.
Despite a myriad of fuel sensor and power unit related issues, Sebastian Vettel ended the one hour session fourth quickest in the Red Bull RB10, with Daniel Ricciardo sixth fastest.
Splitting the blues, on the timing screens, was Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India who was again quicker than teammate Sergio Perez who was tenth fastest – half a second between the two.
Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas were eight and ninth respectively, the Williams outfitperhaps keeping their powder dry until it really matters, each notching up 20 laps apiece in the session which was five or six more than their rivals ahead.
Also clocking some good mileage, after a woeful first day, were Lotus pair of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado. The latter hardly turning a lap a day earlier racked up 20 laps and set the 16th best time in the process, albeit 4.5 seconds adrift of Rosberg’s benchmark time.
Grosjean was tad faster, with 16 laps on his chart, but was clearly unhappy, Grosjean: “There is no performance from the diffuser. The rear end is a disaster.”
Lotus saw the lighter side of their predicament when they tweeted: “We didn’t set the time sheets alight in #FP3. Fortunately we didn’t set the cars alight either.”
Ahead of Round 2, McLaren top the constructors’ standings, but FP3 suddenly turned their thus far positive season upside-down as an engine sensor problem affected both cars, neither Jenson Button or Kevin Magnussen doing any meaningful running in the session, and the pair could even miss out on qualifying as the team rush against time to resolve the issue.
The team said afterwards, “It’s not quite the nightmare scenario but there is a lot of work to do between now and [qualifying].”
With Mercedes setting the pace by some margin, perhaps consolation for the rest are the rain laden clouds looming overhead and threatening to burst over Sepang, and perhaps impact qualifying, if not the race.
And also that the pace setting Mercedes W05 may not be kind enough to its tyres to be as effective in the race. Time will tell on both these factors…
Malaysian Grand Prix, Free Practice 3 – Saturday, 29 March 2014