Ferrari continued to state its case for at least a pole position at the Chinese Grand Prix as Fernando Alonso claimed fastest time in the third and final free practice session at the Shanghai International Circuit.
The Spaniard was backed up by team-mate Felipe Massa, who had led the way on the opening day, as both drivers looked more at home on the soft-compound Pirelli that had caused more than a few headaches in earlier sessions.
With the fastest runs coming towards the end of the 60-minute session, Alonso took his F138 round in 1min 35.391secs, almost a second faster than his team-mate, who managed a 1min 36.013secs best, putting him narrowly ahead of the best of the Mercedes drivers.
Lewis Hamilton upheld the honour of the Three Pointed Star in third spot after team-mate – and FP1 pacesetter – Nico Rosberg had been hobbled by mechanical problems. Although the German initially diagnosed a suspension breakage, the team later confirmed that it had been a hydraulic problem, albeit possibly linked to the W04's innovative new suspension system.
Rosberg cast a disconsolate figure after climbing from the cockpit and, unable to complete a soft tyre run ahead of qualifying, slumped to 14th overall. Mercedes looked better than Ferrari on the harder medium-compound tyre that will be the preferred rubber for the race, with Rosberg backing up Hamilton's pace in that phase of the session.
Red Bull, which is still expected to ramp up its assault once qualifying starts, had to settle for fourth and fifth, with Sebastian Vettel just over a tenth clear of Mark Webber as both
cars ran the latest development package. Vettel, however, was nearly a second off Alonso's pace, with his team-mate the wrong side of the same mark.
Adrian Sutil confirmed Force India's potential in sixth spot, a tenth off Webber, while Kimi Raikkonen headed the McLaren pair of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez. Both Force India and Lotus, however, suffered mixed fortunes in the session, with Paul di Resta and Romain Grosjean down in 16th and 18th respectively.
While Button continued in similar vein to Friday – posting respectable times despite continuing to lament his set-up – team-mate Perez enjoyed a more productive session than either of Friday's. The Mexican was just 0.084secs off Button's time, and managed to steer clear of the tyre walls.
Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top ten for Sauber, ahead of Toro Rosso twins Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo, with Williams' Pastor Maldonado also squeezing in ahead of Rosberg. The German was sandwiched by the other Williams, as Valtteri Bottas got ahead of di Resta, while Esteban Gutierrez edging Grosjean ahead of the 'final four', where Jules Bianchi again led the way for Marussia.