Monsieur Vettel was once again th class of Free Practice during the third session of the weekend, but the Red Bull domination over one lap appeared less demonstrative on the super-softs, hinting that more could be on the table for Lotus and Mercedes.
As Free Practce Three began, a noticeable build-up of rubber graced the confines of Marina Bay by virtue of a spectacular GP2 race just hald an hour before. Any luxury of going off-line was now well and truly out the window as we drew closer to the business end of the weekend.
Under such conditions, the last thing a driver would need is an off-set steering wheel, but that’s exactly what Nico Rosberg was faced with as he headed out for the first time. The silver arrows pilot promptly headed back to base to rectify the gaffe.
Another man concerned with his equipment was Daniel Ricciardo, complaining of a lack of brakes, however the issue was temperature related – an odd concept in these humid 32+ degree sessions.
Charles Pic was the first man out, recording a 1:51.19 to go provisionally quickest of those running on track. In fact, the bottom end of the grid filled much of the top seven positions early; van der Garde, Bianchi and Chilton too all chose to push hard whilst the session was in it’s infancy.
The Force India’s of di Resta and Sutil soon usurped the perennial backmarker’s reign by filling the top two spots respectively, before Williams joined in on the action with Maldonado hitting the top and Bottas not far away in third behind the Sauber of Nico Hulkenberg.
Gutierrez was a very lucky boy to keep his own Sauber off the wall after a lock-up into the braking zone saw him tempting fate with painted concrete. Paul di Resta too still appeared to be struggling with balance; looping his Force India but finding plenty of real-estate to rescue the moment.
Ricciardo once again topped the timesheets as he did in Free Practice Two, pipping Hulkenberg by one-tenth of a second.The natural order soon begain to assert itself however, with Grosjean, Rosberg and Hamilton filling the top thee positions. Vettel bided his time – back in fourth to the tune of one-tenth.
Mercedes one-lap pace, whilst vaguely competitive with the RB9′s, still apeared to have been achieved with rigorous double-bites of the steering wheel compared to the Red Bull driver’s ability to point through the apex early and achieve a dragster-style exit. This style suits Hamilton better than his IWC Schaffhausen and an inability to execute his natural style will no doubt hurt him over a race distance.
Webber soon took a hold of the timesheets with a 1:46.220, taking off where he’s left yesterday. In fact both Red Bull drivers appeared to be in a natural groove compared to their opposition; who looked at least a tenth behind their own cars in terms of being able to manipulate their way through the circuit’s tight confines.
Vettel soon slotted in behind Webber to the tune of eight-hundredths of a second, hinting of another session where the Red Bulls would have no-one else to push but each-other. It’s a good thing Mark had finally extracted time around Singapore or we could be looking at the dullest race of the season!
Once again Button had nestled into his familiar seventh place in the pecking order, while team-mate Perez was able to inch ever closer to the Brit in eighth – recent contract specualtion in the press with Martin Whitmarsh possibly providing a few fireworks between the pair.
With ten minutes to go, nearly everyone was on track for a run on the super-softs. Grosjean was the first to go purple through sectors one and two and completed a lap nearly two seconds quicker than the medium compound. Alonso was eight-tenths away before Vettel began slipped under the pair by a tenth. Webber looked to challenge but marginally missed a hairpin exit, costing him crucial exit speed and would have to settle for fourth on his first run with three minutes remaining.
Grosjean looked incerdibaly at ease on the super-softs, although his Lotus team-mate, Raikkonen now appeared to be struggling back in 12th and abandoned his run.
So Vettel, from Button and Rosberg. All within half a second and a vastly different scenario from the first two practice sessions. Qualifying could throw up a few surprise packages.
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