Monaco FP3 Recap: Rosberg tops red-flagged, traffic filled final practice

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Nico Rosberg (1:15.159) ended the final practice session of the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix fastest, but it was Felipe Massa in second fastest who seemed most committed to a fast lap around the streets of the principality. The session ended early after Pastor Maldonado (down in twenty-first)clipped, then hit the barriers at Casino and lost a wheel, stopping at Mirabeau and causing a red flag with less than five minutes to go. The Venezualan had recently turned in on Sergio Perez (who ended the session ninth fastest) in apparent retribution for something. Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, and Romain Grosjean rounded out the fastest five.

Both Thursday practices saw rather less running than usual, with the first ending early after Heikki Kovalainen’s engine blew in the tunnel, and the second hampered by rain falling lightly enough to grease the slippery track but not heavily enough for proper wet test laps. Alonso (1:16.265) set the fastest lap in the morning session, leading Grosjean, Perez, Hamilton, and Maldonado as the fastest five in a session that saw a few kisses with the Armco, but nothing that required further protection. Button (1:15.746) led the afternoon practice with a lap set in the first fifteen minutes of the hour and a half session, one of the few drivers to actually make it out on the supersoft tyres before the skies opened over the Principality. Grosjean, Massa, Alonso, and Maldonado were quickest in that session, though times were generally unreliable.

Session Start:
instead of Thursday’s rain, the sun shone brightly minutes before the final, hour long practice session began Saturday. Vergne led the way out, with Kovalainen, Ricciardo, Petrov, Kobayashi, and others following straightaway. Alonso was the first of the heavy hitters to circulate, seconds into the session and with flow-vis paint dripping off his Ferrari, as cars began the dash for setups in the traffic of Monaco. Quickly, all but Hamilton, Schumacher, Rosberg, Raikkonen, and Di Resta set their single installation lap and went back into the garage. Those five drivers waited until the rest of the field returned, then set out for their install laps. Raikkonen (1:21.162) started a second, timed lap, running wide at Rascasse, setting the first time of the session. He continued to lap, making up time for his lack of running in FP1. Schumacher also set a time, nearly seven tenths faster than the Finn. Rosberg slotted his Mercedes into second fastest with a lap time a half second faster than Raikkonen, only to have Kimi improve to a second and a half faster than Schumacher.

The early minutes of the session were marked by these three lapping. Both world champions were pushing hard, and all three continued to trade the fastest lap. Di Resta joined them, going second fastest on his first timed lap just after Raikkonen improved his lap time by a vast margin over the Merecedes drivers. The Finn finally seemed comfortable with the steering on his Lotus, shoving his way around the circuit. However, di Resta was quietly went quickest off all on just his second timed lap. Even though Schumacher had pitted, the serene business of lapping on a clear Monaco circuit soon hotted up as more drivers joined the action.

15 Minutes Elapsed:
Di Resta led when a quarter of the session had elapsed, with Lotus teammates Raikkonen and Grosjean trading second fastest laps between them. Rosberg, Vettel, Schumacher, Vergne, de la Rosa, Karthikeyan, and Senna completed the fastest ten at that point. The standings would not long remain the same as nearly the entire field began setting times. Hamilton went straight to fourth, only to see Grosjean move up to fastest (1:16.812), a half second clear of Di Resta’s formerly quickest of all lap. The Frenchman continued to improve, as did Hamilton and Vettel. The latter two soon went second and third fastest, but still over a half second off Grosjean’s lap time.

As Perez moved up to second fastest, teammate Kobayashi joined the number of drivers going to the escape road at Mirabeau, only to flick spin his Sauber right back into lapping. Thirty-eight minutes into the session, Grosjean (1:15.811) led Perez, Hamilton, Alonso, Webber, Vettel, Schumacher, Di Resta, Hulkenberg, and Raikkonen as the top ten. Massa managed to push his way into the top five, going third fastest as a number of drivers made their way back to the garage as halfway approached. His next lap put him second fastest, just two tenths off Grosjean’s very fast time.

Things settled down a bit by halfway, as drivers were in the midst of longer runs. No one had yet switched to the supersoft tyres as Grosjean (1:15.811) still led. Massa, Perez, Alonso, Kobayashi, Schumacher, Button, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Webber, and Vettel completed the fastest eleven. Soon thereafter, Rosberg jumped from eighteenth to fastest on those supersoft tyres, but only .06s faster than Grosjean on the soft tyre. Raikkonen had also moved up to eighth on his first set of them as well. The Finn looked set to improve greatly, but lost time in traffic. In clear air, Rosberg improved his time to 1:15.159, more than six tenths up on Grosjean, who was still in the garage.

Hamilton locked up into the first turn as Ricciardo was on a fast lap behind him, taking the tiny bit of escape at that turn and returning barely behind the Australian. Meanwhile, Alonso moved up to second fastest on his first set of the supersoft tyres. Just behind him on the track, Grosjean set the fastest overall first sector, had Alonso move smartly out of the way, and slowed up on the second sector to keep a gap to Glock a few turns ahead. Alonso next bettered Grosjean’s fast first sector as the final twenty minutes of this practice began. The Spaniard was pushing hard, losing a tiny bit of time in the final sector and remaining second fastest. At around that time, most of the drivers seemed to have begun setting somewhat slower laps, working on race pace instead of quali runs. That is, except for Grosjean and Alonso who traded fastest first and second sector times, only to lose time later in the lap. Massa moved up to third fastest, less than a tenth off his teammate’s lap time.

15 Minutes Remaining:
Massa continued to push, driving the Monaco circuit masterfully, but losing time just like Alonso in the final sector. Rosberg (1:15.159) continued to lead with fifteen minutes to go. Alonso, Massa, Grosjean, Perez, Schumacher, Webber, Vergne, Raikkonen, Kobayashi, Hamilton, Vettel, and Button completed the fastest thirteen at that point. Only Rosberg, Massa, Schumacher, Vergne, Kovalainen, and Petrov were lapping then. Both Massa and Schumacher were fully committed through the Swimming Pool section, bouncing off the kerbing. Back out on the supersofts, Button then moved up to fifth fastest. Vettel had been out, but had to return to the garage after bumping the right rear off the Armco with ten minutes remaining. There did not seem to be damage, but the team had to check out the car.

5 Minutes Remaining:
The final five minutes saw much traffic as drivers went for some final fast laps. Hulkenberg turned in on the racing line just ahead of Perez on a fast lap while Di Resta lost the rear coming out of the tunnel and clipped the barrier with his front wing.

Red Flag:
Soon thereafter, Maldonado stopped the session with four minutes to go, catching the wall at Casino, losing a wheel, and pulling off at Mirabeau. Before that, Maldonado went around Perez and seemingly deliberately turned and bumped into the Mexican driver at Portier, who was clearly attempting to keep out of the Venezuelan’s way. That red flag ended the session with Rosberg on top of the timesheets.

Final Times for FP3, 2012 Monaco Grand Prix:

1. Nico RosbergMercedes1:15.159 25
2. Felipe MassaFerrari1:15.1970.03821
3. Sebastian VettelRed Bull1:15.2090.05020
4. Fernando AlonsoFerrari1:15.2100.05120
5. Romain GrosjeanLotus1:15.4450.28618
6. Jenson ButtonMcLaren1:15.4710.31219
7. Lewis HamiltonMcLaren1:15.7340.57519
8. Michael SchumacherMercedes1:15.8930.73423
9. Sergio PerezSauber1:16.1100.95114
10. Mark WebberRed Bull1:16.2191.06019
11. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1:16.2261.06720
12. Kimi RaikkonenLotus1:16.3011.14221
13. Kamui KobayashiSauber1:16.3111.15219
14. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso1:16.4791.32020
15. Nico HulkenbergForce India1:17.0271.86820
16. Bruno SennaWilliams1:17.0551.89626
17. Heikki KovalainenCaterham1:17.2762.11725
18. Paul Di RestaForce India1:17.3902.23119
19. Vitaly PetrovCaterham1:17.4042.24522
20. Timo GlockMarussia1:18.2593.10018
21. Pastor MaldonadoWilliams1:18.4883.32922
22. Charles PicMarussia1:19.0993.94017
23. Narain KarthikeyanHRT1:19.1473.98819
24. Pedro de la RosaHRT1:19.1513.99219
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