Nico Rosberg underlined his status as man of the moment in F1 by repeating his Friday form and topping the third and final practice session in preparation for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The German, who claimed his maiden F1 pole and race win in China a week ago, bided his time before banging in a 1min 33.254secs lap that, as his qualifying effort in Shanghai had done, left his rivals gasping in the dusty haze that hung over Bahrain International Circuit. Although the two Red Bull drivers managed to close the gap slightly before the end of the hour-long session, Rosberg - who had survived a bird strike on his helmet during FP2 - continued to lead by over a tenth of a second, although his lap was some four-tenths slower than he had managed on Friday afternoon.
Surprisingly, Red Bull continued to lead the pursuit of the German, this time with Sebastian Vettel beating Mark Webber for second spot. The gap between the two was a couple of tenths, but there was a scare for the world champion when his car was found to be overheating on its right flank during a routine stop. The team decided that Vettel could return to the fray for the final moments of the session, and that allowed him to vault back ahead of his team-mate.
Lewis Hamilton was again the best of the McLarens, although neither he or Jenson Button appear to be quite the threat they had been in the opening three rounds. Button suggested overnight that perhaps the team had gone the wrong way on set-up, and Hamilton remained half a second shy of Rosberg when the chequered flag fell. Button was a couple of places further back, behind the second Mercedes of Michael Schumacher.
Kimi Raikkonen claimed seventh for Lotus, ahead of Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo, Lotus team-mate Romain Grosjean and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso, with Pastor Maldonado, who faces a five-place grid penalty after qualifying, in eleventh. The Venezuelan's Williams team-mate, Bruno Senna, admitted to an error on his fastest lap and wound up only 17th.
That still left the Brazilian ahead of Force India's Nico Hulkenberg, who appeared to suffer more from the team's decision to skip FP2 in the name of staff security in an area beset by protests than team-mate Paul di Resta, who wound up four places better off, in 15th spot, although their times were only a matter of tenths apart.
Senna was only hundredths faster than Caterham's Heikki Kovalainen, giving the Finn hope of maybe breaking out of Q1. Team-mate Vitaly Petrov was almost a second slower after suffering floor damage, although the final four runners were similarly distant at the tail of the field.