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Vettel snatches FP3 from Hamilton

23 March 2013

Sebastian Vettel posted the fastest time of the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend as the chequered flag was readied on final practice at Sepang, confirming that Red Bull will again be a factor when it comes to qualifying.

The Melbourne pole-sitter had begun the hour-long session by undertaking longer runs in a bid to gather final data on tyre wear after suffering throughout Friday, but picked up the pace late on the thwart Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, who had sat atop the times for much of the morning.

With the GP2 field having helped lay down a fresh coating of rubber after an overnight rainstorm, the F1 runners were soon lapping in similar times to day one. Running a different programme to Red Bull, Hamilton quickly established himself at the top of the timesheets, despite running the harder Pirelli tyre, only to be usurped by Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg after the German bolted on a set of the softer rubber. Not to be outdone, however, Hamilton responded in kind with his own qualifying simulation, posting a 1min 36.568secs benchmark that appeared set to remain fastest until Vettel's late effort bettered it by 0.133secs.

Behind Hamilton, Rosberg's time was subsumed by no fewer than six other drivers, with the impressive Adrian Sutil initially slotting into second spot. Mark Webber eventually wound up fourth fastest, with Kimi Raikkonen, Paul di Resta, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa also getting between the two Mercedes drivers. Raikkonen, however, did not appear as comfortable as he had in setting the Friday pace, claiming that his Lotus was handling differently with the altered track conditions, while Button felt that the cleaner track had had the opposite effect on his McLaren, allowing it to run more smoothly.

Fernando Alonso rounded out the top ten in a low-key session for Ferrari, edging Williams' Pastor Maldonado, while Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenberg and Romain Grosjean proved closely-matched in twelfth, 13th and 14th. Valtteri Bottas gave Williams additional hope by out-pacing Sauber rookie Esteban Gutierrez and STR pair Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo but, with the rain having affected Friday's second session, the varying Saturday programmes may have skewed the order slightly.

Charles Pic comfortably out-paced Jules Bianchi as the Caterham-Marussia battle continued at the back, while the latter's team-mate Max Chilton lost vital track time to a brake problem, leaving him at the back of the pack once again.


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