Practice three in sweltering Malaysia alluded to what could be expected in qualifying. With no team yet to have found all the pieces of the jigsaw, let alone pieced them together, a gripping qualifying session was promised following the session.
Red Bull started the session on heavily fuelled long runs and after Mark Webber initially set the pace, they were impeded by tyre wear. Towards the end of his own long run, Vettel had a skirmish with his car as the back end tried to escape him; a clear indication that tyre degradation was taking its toll. With the circuit having evolved due to the rain in FP2, rear tyres started to struggle due to its now unfavourable tendency to cause oversteer. With Red Bull’s race simulation showing that they only have eleven laps before their hard tyres reach their limit, four pit stops during the race wasn’t beyond comprehension.
FP2 pace setter Kimi Raikkonen appeared to be tussling with oversteer in his car. The changes in the track overnight affected the balance of the Lotus which seemed so perfectly matched to conditions in the earlier sessions. He ended fifth fastest with his team mate down in fourteenth.
Sebastian Vettel ended the session with a 1.36.4 to go fastest. Red Bull still appear to have their main focus set firmly on pace over a single lap, but they aren’t looking good on long runs in terms of tyre management. Completing less laps than the other top teams, Ferrari seem to be content with the set up of their car, and while they are not showing out and out pace, have an eye on the bigger picture with development for the race firmly set in their minds. Massa and Alonso ended the session eighth and tenth respectively.
|Vettel topped the timesheet in the third session. Photo: skynews.com.au|
Niki Lauda could be seen looking serious in the Mercedes garage as both drivers put themselves at the top of the timesheet at different points in the session. Continuing their quest to become the new McLaren in terms of constructor’s position, Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta kept the cars in the top five for the duration of the period. With the aim of McLaren being to understand the car better in order to extract more performance in Malaysia, Button’s seventh fastest time suggests they are heading in the right direction.
Practice three built the foundations for an exciting qualifying session. Red Bull were quick over one lap but their race simulation suggest they won’t be as strong in the race. The opposite could be said of Ferrari. Mercedes will be fairly optimistic, while Lotus will hope the track reverts to conditions experienced during practice sessions one and two.