Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button returned McLaren to the top two spots on the timesheets at the end of Saturday's session at Yas Marina, but the worrying sight of Sebastian Vettel in third place will not allow either to consider themselves favourite for pole position.
The two Britons were the fastest drivers on track for much of the session, with Hamilton vaulting straight to the top of the times with his first flying lap and comfortably able to respond to any threat from elsewhere. Button likewise slotted into second spot, keeping track of his team-mate's improvements and ending the session just 0.290secs behind. Both drivers looked strong in the early part of the session, whilst running the harder of the two available Pirelli tyres, but found it hard to carve great chunks off their times towards the end when switching to the softer option
The 'threats' to Hamilton's supremacy did not include Vettel until the very end, however, the German completing just a couple of installation laps before his Red Bull mechanics set to work dismantling and rebuilding his front brakes. For a long time, it appeared that the world champion - and current points leader - may not get a chance to check the repairs before qualifying but, with five minutes left of the hour-long session, he emerged. With just enough time to complete a couple of flying laps, the first effort had to be abandoned, but the second was sufficient to lift the #1 machine to third in the order, just 0.484secs shy of Hamilton....
Mark Webber completed the two-by-two at the front of the field, belying his 'car park circuit' comment after FP2 to go fourth fastest, while Nico Hulkenberg made the most of overnight changes at Force India to complete the top five, just six-tenths off the pace. Team-mate Paul di Resta, using a new chassis this weekend, was also in the top ten, but behind Romain Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen.
For a second day, the myriad developments at Ferrari - and the double curfew break needed to fettle them - did not appear to have aided Alonso's championship cause. The Spaniard never featured at the front and was the first driver over a second off the pace when the chequered flag fell. Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa was eleventh fastest, at the head of a tight group comprising Sergio Perez, Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, while Kamui Kobayashi, Jean-Eric Vergne, Bruno Senna and Daniel Ricciardo brought up the rear of the midfield, with the Australian fully two seconds adrift of Hamilton.
Heikki Kovalainen returned to the head of 'division three', where Marussia pushed both Timo Glock and Charles Pic ahead of Vitaly Petrov in the second Caterham.