Chinese GP - Saturday - Practice Session 3 Report

Red Rule In China

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso 

 © The Cahier Archive

Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa topped Saturday morning's Free Practice 3 session as the red Ferraris locked out the top two spots on the timing screens.

Jules Bianchi was the first driver out onto the track as the final free practice session of the weekend began. Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) and Adrian Sutil (Force India) followed his Marussia out of the pitlane onto the 16-turn 3.387-mile (5.451 km) Shanghai International Circuit.

The track temperature at the start of the session was 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) and the ambient temperature was 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 Celsius) at the start of the session.

All the drivers came in after their installation laps. But Charles Pic was soon out on the track and became the first to post a time after turning a 1:41.995 in his Caterham. His teammate Guido van der Garde narrowly beat that with a 1:41.924.

The Caterham duo had the track to themselves for a few before Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) and Gutierrez joined them. Van der Garde improved his time to a 1:41.434 ten minutes into the session.

After 15 minutes, only van der Garde, Pic and Gutierrez had posted a lap time. But that was about to change.

The McLaren pit radioed a message to Sergio Perez and told him that the track was "slow" but he still managed to clock a 1:38.769. And, indeed, Perez radioed that the track surface lacked grip.

Eighteen minutes into the one hour session, Kimi Raikkonen went quickest with a 1:38.323, and his Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean was second with a 1:38.437. That didn't last long because Nico Rosberg broke into the 1:37s with a time of 1:37.699 in his Mercedes.

The track was gaining a little more grip as more cars pounded around, and the lap times started to come down a bit. Lewis Hamilton went quickest 22 minutes into the session with a 1:37.042 in his Mercedes. Vettel moved into second with a 1:37.528.

The session was nearly half over, but Ferrari drivers Alonso and Massa, Red Bull's Mark Webber and Williams' Pastor Maldonado remained in the pits after their installation laps. The first three finally headed out at the 30 minute mark, but there was still no sign of Maldonado.

Hamilton, meanwhile, had lowered his time to a 1:36.961. Rosberg also went faster, moving into second place with a 1:37.349.

Midway through the session the top six were: Hamilton, Rosberg, Vettel, Raikkonen, Perez and Valtteri Bottas (Williams.) So far the drivers had been running on Pirelli's medium compound slicks. The Caterham duo, who had been first and second, were now last and second last.

A minute later, Webber slotted into fourth place. And a minute after that, Alonso was up to fifth and Massa to sixth.

With most drivers concentrating on longer runs on medium tires that were wearing out, nobody was going to beat Hamilton's fast lap for the time being.

But then, with 20 minutes to go, Rosberg and Hamilton had sets of the soft compound Pirellis fitted and went out to try them out. Rosberg soon pitted with some sort of problem on his car, but Hamilton turned a 1:36.065.

With 11 minutes remaining, Hamilton and Grosjean were the only two drivers on the track. The action was about to get thick and heavy, however, as the other drivers went out for qualifying practice runs on the soft tires.

Raikkonen was the first to go on a flier lap, and moved into second with a 1:36.605. Then Sutil beat that with a 1:36.549 with six minutes left in the session.

With five minutes to go, only three drivers were in the pits. Massa went fastest with a 1:36.013, but Alonso beat that with a 1:35.391.

With just under three minutes remaining, Webber moved into fourth place behind Alonso, Massa and Hamilton. But Vettel managed to beat his Red Bull teammate to take the spot.

And so the session ended with Ferrari teammates Alonso and Massa on top, followed by Hamilton, Vettel, Webber, Sutil, Raikkonen and McLaren teammates Jenson Button and Perez. Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber) rounded out the top 10.


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