Free practice at the Korea International Circuit had a familiar feel to it, with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber at the head of the times after two 90-minute sessions.
The German, who has won the past two races in Shanghai and Japan, posted the best time of anyone running the supersoft Pirellis but, as he had in qualifying a week ago, had to fend off RBR team-mate Mark Webber, as the Australian appeared to have his measure within a matter of hundredths.
Vettel, having been fifth fastest in the morning session, moved to the front of the pack with a lap of 1min 38.832secs, putting him 0.032secs ahead of Webber, the only other driver to break the 1min 39secs barrier. Fernando Alonso, who continued his strong start to the weekend, was third fastest in the session, but three-tenths off the pace, and was pipped on the combined list by FP1 pacesetter Lewis Hamilton, whose 1min 39.148secs was 12-hundredths better than the Spaniard's improved FP2 time.
Hamilton was one of only two drivers who failed to set a flying lap on the softer of the two tyre compounds on offer in Korea, the other being his impending replacement at McLaren, Sergio Perez, who was stopped on track by an actuator failure. While Sauber attempted to fix the Mexican's machine and return him to the fray, Hamilton continued to look for a lap on the supersoft, but ultimately cast a frustrated figure as he climbed from the cockpit. Alonso, too, appeared capable of more on similar runs, but kept finding traffic that denied him a quicker time.
McLaren team-mate Jenson Button filled P4 in the second session, and fifth overall, less than a tenth slower than Alonso, and the pair were reckoned to be the most impressive on the harder rubber as they simulated longer, race-style, runs. While it was claimed that the Briton was the fastest of all, Alonso actually recorded the best laps under those conditions, suggesting that Ferrari is in better shape this weekend, maybe as a result of the upgrade Alonso hinted at in Japan.
Behind Button, Michael Schumacher claimed sixth on the combined charts for Mercedes, with team-mate Nico Rosberg sandwiching Felipe Massa in seventh. Nico Hulkenberg and Kimi Raikkonen – using the latest Lotus exhaust developments - rounded out the top ten overall, with Romain Grosjean, in the standard E20, the eleventh and final driver under 1min 40secs.
Bruno Senna claimed a promising twelfth spot after again being forced to sit out the opening 90-minute session in favour of Williams reserve Valtteri Bottas. The Finn, making his first visit to the KIC, was unsurprisingly the slowest of the Williams drivers on the day, with Senna also getting the better of Pastor Maldonado by a full second.
The Brazilian was also narrowly ahead of the second Force India of Paul di Resta who, unlike Hulkenberg, had been out in the morning session. The German was left to kick his heels for 90 minutes while potential replacement Jules Bianchi was given some track time, among the biggest contingent of reserves on track for some time as he was joined not only by Bottas, but also Giedo van der Garde and Dani Clos at Caterham and HRT respectively.
Bianchi wound up fastest of the stand-ins, eventually settling at 19th on the combined timesheets, dropping behind the Saubers and Toro Rossos as they got the benefit of using the softer rubber during the afternoon session, but remaining ahead of Bottas and the usual backmarkers, for whom Heikki Kovalainen led the way, bettering his countryman in the process.
Timo Glock and Marussia initially appeared to have the measure of Kovalainen, but eventually dropped almost a second behind, while Charles Pic, having had his steering rack changed in the same way as Glock had in FP1, used his last flying lap to edge Vitaly Petrov by a thousandth of a second. Neither driver's best lap was good enough to dislodge van der Garde, however, the Dutchman having broken into the 1min 42s in FP1.