His manager may have attracted the odd raised eyebrow after tipping a Ferrari win this weekend, but Michael Schumacher underlined the Scuderia's potential by topping the times in the third and final practice session ahead of qualifying at Sepang on Saturday morning.

The German took nearly a second off the best lap of the weekend so far as he edged out Bahrain race winner Fernando Alonso at the head of the timesheets, clocking 1min 34.126secs to the Spaniard's 1min 34.180secs. After their duel in the sun at Sakhir, the pair now gear up to fight for pole in Malaysia, where Bridgestone appears to be on its mettle in the battle with Michelin.

Although Schumacher was pursued by a horde of Michelin-shod runners, Toyota and Williams did their bit to keep Bridgestone's threat real, with both Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher in the top ten for the former, and joined .Nico Rosberg for latter. Renault, Honda, McLaren and, perhaps surprisingly given the heat, Red Bull all featured for Michelin, with Alonso and team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella giving closest chase to Ferrari.

While Schumacher, Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen all rated highly in the hour, however, there were less impressive performances from their respective team-mates, with Felipe Massa - who has already elected to skip qualifying to save mileage on his second engine of the season - Rubens Barrichello and Juan Montoya recording the 17th, 15th and 16th fastest times respectively.

That left the trio behind Toyota, which many had predicted to struggle so soon after its Bahrain debacle, BMW and Toro Rosso, which managed to push Tonio Liuzzi into 14th spot with his restricted V10 engine. Massa did little to help his chances with an early off, while Montoya continues to struggle with car problems that the McLaren team refuses to admit may be engine-related.

The man to struggle with a mystery problem in Bahrain a week ago, Fisichella, racked up the third fastest time of the morning, but was some 0.4secs off Schumacher's pace and only just ahead of a confident Button. Raikkonen, meanwhile, had to watch as Christian Klien stuck his Ferrari-engined, Michelin-tyred Red Bull car into the top five, edging the Finn by the merest of margins, but backed up by ninth-placed team-mate David Coulthard, who helped suggest that the RB2 could be a points contender again this weekend.

Rosberg out-shone Williams team-mate Mark Webber to the tune of three places and half a second, but expect the Aussie - like those names further back than expected - to feature when qualifying rolls around in a couple of hours' time.


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