Red Bull and Mercedes continued to mark themselves out as the teams to beat in the German Grand Prix, but it was Sebastian Vettel
who took charge of the final practice session before qualifying.
The German, who has never won an F1 race in July or on home soil, was involved in a neck-and-neck battle with both RBR team-mate Mark Webber
and Mercedes' Nico Rosberg
for much of the one-hour Saturday morning session, before banging in two laps faster than his countryman could manage and eventually wind up nearly seven-tenths clear of the pack with a 1min 29.517secs effort.
Rosberg only narrowly prevented a Red Bull
1-2 at the top of the order, slipping in a best lap 0.018secs faster than Webber, but there wasn't such good news for team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who could only manage seventh spot after complaining of serious oversteer on his W04.
In truth, the Briton wasn't the only one to find that his handling had changed overnight – Williams; Pastor Maldonado
was also heard to tell his team that he couldn't drive his car the way it was behaving – but he was the biggest name appearing to suffer.
Lapping 1.2secs slower than Vettel, Hamilton was split from the top three by the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso
and Felipe Massa, and sandwiched between the Lotuses of Kimi Raikkonen
and Romain Grosjean. The Spaniard continued to show no real ill-effect resulting from missing the whole of FP1 and appeared to enjoy a better balance than either Ferrari
had had at Silverstone. Massa, meanwhile, made it through free practice without putting his car in the barrier….
The top ten was completed by Nico Hulkenberg
and Adrian Sutil, with Sauber seemingly showing better form than for much of the first half of the season. The second car, driven by Esteban Gutierrez, was twelfth fastest, half a second shy of Hulkenberg and just a tenth off the pace of the best of the McLarens, driven to eleventh place by Jenson Button.
Further back, Maldonado – having made it to the start of the session in spite of suffering a much-publicised KERS failure shortly after breakfast – struggled to 17th, behind both Toro Rossos and only fractionally ahead of Williams
team-mate Valtteri Bottas. Charles Pic, meanwhile, kept Caterham ahead in the battle of the backmarkers, where Jules Bianchi
showed no lingering effects of the stomach upset that kept him out of FP2 as he completed 22 laps and wound up in 20th spot.