Felipe Massa put Ferrari
back on top of the timesheets at the end of the third and final free practice session at the Spanish Grand Prix, but the leading group were sufficiently well-matched to suggest that qualifying could produce a shoot-out for pole position.
Although there is no direct reward for claiming fastest time in qualifying, the Barcelona race has been won from pole 17 times in 22 outings, giving the Saturday afternoon session a little extra significance despite the run potentially coming under threat from the second DRS zone added this season.
Massa moved to the head of the queue as times and places were exchanged in the closing moments of the 60-minute practice session, but wound up just 0.06secs faster than Kimi Raikkonen, who consistently appeared in top spot during the hour. With Lotus team-mate Romain Grosjean
also showing well in fourth spot – and the pair coming off a double podium in Bahrain before displaying good long run pace on Friday – the Enstone team may well be a threat on race day if not before.
Sandwiched between the two Lotus drivers, Mark Webber
ensured that Red Bull
was well represented amongst the contenders, the Australian lapping just 0.043secs slower than Massa. Webber also reminded that he is no slouch around the Circuit de Catalunya, although his RBR team-mate, Sebastian Vettel, may have something to say about who holds the upper hand, despite finishing the session in fifth spot.
That was one place better off than Friday morning pacesetter Fernando Alonso, although the pair once again proved evenly matched.
Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil, thankfully without any tyre problems, filled seventh and eighth places, with Lewis Hamilton
and Jean-Eric Vergne – with another useful showing for Toro Rosso
– rounding out the top ten.
McLaren's upgrade package once again disappointed, with Jenson Button
only twelfth quickest, lining up behind Nico Rosberg, and Sergio Perez 14th, behind fellow Mexican Esteban Gutierrez after neither opted to run with the new front wing as it hadn't passed the necessary FIA checks. Perez, however, was sidelined for much of the second half of the session after pitting to fix a loose bargeboard uncovered a possible power steering issue on his MP4-28.
Williams apparent rise up the order on Friday was dampened as Pastor Maldonado
found himself sandwiched between Perez and Nico Hulkenberg, while Valtteri Bottas was only 17th, just ahead of the second STR entry of Daniel Ricciardo. Sauber fitted more new parts to its car after Friday's evaluation process was hampered by the rain in FP1, but Hulkenberg was narrowly out-paced by rookie team-mate Gutierrez as positions 13 to 16 were covered by just 0.018secs.
At the back, Charles Pic
confirmed Caterham's move to the head of 'division three' by leading the final quartet, but came close to missing out to fellow Frenchman Jules Bianchi, who all but matched his time. Max Chilton, after a troubled single session on Friday, moved up to 21st at the expense of Giedo van der Garde, the Dutchman not having access to all the same development parts as team-mate Pic.