Sebastian Vettel picked up where Red Bull Racing team-mate Mark Webber left off on Friday by setting the pace in final free practice for the Japanese Grand Prix, although the Australian was not that far behind.
Having attempted to play down Lewis Hamilton's pre-event claim that RBR now had the fastest car in F1, Webber was just a couple of tenths slower than his German team-mate, as the pair came out on top of a slightly mixed up order after 60 minutes of final preparations ahead of qualifying. With the teams committed to using the softer Pirelli tyre in a bid to sort their fastest set-up, Vettel's benchmark proved to be three-tenths quicker than Webber had managed on Friday afternoon, as the pair left third-placed Felipe Massa trailing in their wake.
The Brazilian, who was 0.6secs off the pace, probably flattered Ferrari with his third position, as the Scuderia - and, in particular, points leader Fernando Alonso - appeared to be struggling for pace once again. The Spaniard could only manage eleventh place on the timesheets, just over a second shy of Vettel's 1min 32.136secs effort. Mercedes' Michael Schumacher, showing no ill-effects from his Friday afternoon shunt at Spoon, was fourth fastest, ahead of Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi, who again suggested that Sauber could be a threat to the top ten.
Along with Alonso, neither McLaren featured in the top ten, but the 'problems' afflicting Jenson Button, who eventually placed eighth, and Lewis Hamilton, down in 13th, were more down to the fact that they had both been caught out by slower traffic - and at the fastest part of the circuit - while attempting late flying laps on the softer rubber. Button found Schumacher dawdling through the flat-out 130R, while Hamilton, perhaps more frighteningly, found Charles Pic's Marussia doing far lesser speeds approaching the braking zone for the chicane. Fortunately, both Britons avoided contact that could not only have wrecked their build-up to qualifying but, potentially, have had more serious outcomes. They will be more concerned, however, by the fact that Red Bull, and Vettel especially, appeared to have the edge in both qualifying and race trim.
The one incident that did result in damage befell Force India's Nico Hulkenberg, who lost the rear of his car entering the second Degner curve and made contact with the tyre wall, bending the left-front corner. The German was unhurt, but his off was symptomatic of a wind shift that caused more than a few drivers to run wide through the corner. Hulkenberg's misdemeanour left him down in 18th place, ahead only of the expected backmarkers, but team-mate Paul di Resta gave Force India reason to be optimistic ahead of qualifying, putting his rebuilt VJM05 into ninth spot. Romain Grosjean, in a Lotus devoid of its double DRS 'device' and Williams' Pastor Maldonado filled the other top ten places.
Behind Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen continued to chase the set-up on his Lotus, having lost much of Friday afternoon to a KERS issue, while Hamilton was followed by Jean-Eric Vergne, Nico Rosberg, Bruno Senna and Daniel Ricciardo.