Sebastian Vettel again produced the fastest time in practice for the Belgian Grand Prix, but his advantage in the third and final session at Spa-Francorchamps was much reduced after Friday's dominating performance.
The world champion produced a lap of 1min 48.327secs during late runs on the softer Pirelli tyre – over a second faster than he had managed prior to suffering a puncture on Friday afternoon – but his margin over the rest was little more than a tenth. On day one, only Red Bull
team-mate Mark Webber
had got close to Vettel but, this time around, Fernando Alonso
led the resistance, posting a best effort just 0.105secs slower than the German.
Webber was third fastest, a further tenth back, with Jean-Eric Vergne – again surprising in the lead Toro Rosso
– and Felipe Massa
rounding out the top five, suggesting that Ferrari
power could be a factor around the sweeps of Spa.
Despite spending much of the first half of the 60-minute session in the pits having his McLaren
attended to, Jenson Button
still salvaged sixth spot, half a second off Vettel's best, but there wasn't such good news for countryman Lewis Hamilton, who continued to struggle in the Mercedes, spinning at the Bus Stop in his efforts to better 1min 49.046secs and twelfth spot on the timesheet.
Despite leading the way on the hard Pirelli, team-mate Nico Rosberg
was only slightly better off, confounding predictions of a Mercedes pole as he logged ninth spot, six-tenths off the pace and only a tenth better than Hamilton. Ahead of the German, Esteban Gutierrez – without Friday's rain to help boost his position – and Romain Grosjean
filled places seven and eight, with Kimi Raikkonen
rounding out the top ten.
The Finn had led the way through the middle part of the session, with compatriot Valtteri Bottas for company in the top two, but slipped backwards thereafter. Daniel Ricciardo, Raikkonen's apparent rival for the second seat at Red Bull
next season, all but matched the Lotus driver's time, edging Hamilton by 0.009secs.
Force India, like Mercedes, also failed to make an impression on the timesheets, with Adrian Sutil
13th and Paul di Resta 15th. The Scot, however, came close to making his mark on the tyre wall at turn nine, running wide enough to put all four wheels between the white line and the barrier. The pair sandwiched Bottas in the final order, with McLaren's Sergio Perez – who suffered even more than team-mate Button – was 16th, ahead of Nico Hulkenberg
and Pastor Maldonado
before Caterham and Marussia filled the final four spots.
Mercifully, there was no repeat of the punctures that caused such concern on Friday afternoon. Pirelli claimed to have uncovered a piece of tungsten, thought to have come from Raikkonen's Lotus, during an evening search, and believed it to have been the cause of the problems that affected both Vettel and Alonso during FP2.