Spain FP3 Recap: Vettel on top again in final practice

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Sebastian Vettel (1:23.168) led the timesheets at the end of the final practice for the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix after traffic scuttled a fast lap for Lewis Hamilton (sixteenth fastest) and yellow flags lightly disrupted a few final sectors at the end. Pastor Maldonado, Kamui Kobayashi, Mark Webber, and Sergio Perez completed the fastest five. Fernando Alonso improved to sixth fastest after a slow Friday afternoon, while Kimi Raikkonen finished ninth, Nico Rosberg tenth, and Michael Schumacher seventeenth in a session marked mainly by teams holding their speed cards close to their vests.

Friday’s practices saw Alonso and Button take the fast lap honors, in a continued three hours of seemingly endless race simulation. As this season’s degrading tyres and DRS assisted passing have shown drivers capable of moving well forward after dismal qualifying, teams appeared to be ever more focused on learning how the tyres would wear and far less focused on single fast laps for headlines. Alonso (1:24.430) led the morning practice but spent the afternoon languishing in the mid-field as his Ferrari continued to be its standard 2012 handful. Vettel, Kobayashi, Button, and Williams reserve driver Valtteri Bottas completed the top five for the sunny morning session.

Button (1:23.399) took over in the afternoon, as Vettel, Rosberg, Hamilton, and Raikkonen joined him. That session saw a number of drivers off through the gravel as they tested the limits of their Pirellis, but only de la Rosa lost bits off his HRT. That it, they flew off heading into Turn 1, without contact and no trip off the track. HRT had a bad Friday all around, with reserve driver Dani Clos pulling off with an electrical issue in Narain Karthikeyan’s car in the morning. Karthikeyan barely managed to make one lap of the circuit before he was done in the afternoon.

 Session Start:
Kobayashi and Kovalainen led the train out of pit lane under sunny but slightly hazy skies to begin the hour of final practice. More than a third of the field quickly followed, only to dash out for a single installation lap each. Hamilton was the last man to do so, nearly ten minutes into the session. Alonso competed two install laps, the second an abysmally long one, and left the track quiet as he also returned to the garage.

15 Minutes Elapsed:
As the first quarter of the session ended, Pic rejoined. Other drivers followed, though the McLaren garage had a bit of work on Hamilton’s rear brakes. They had to file his rear brakes down a bit as they were squeaking after an unscheduled change on Friday. Pic (1:28.495) set the first time, seventeen minutes into the session. Just after, Grosjean sat off the track, having run off at the old track and lost power. On the radio, the team told the driver that the car lost fuel pressure, leading to an engine stall. At the same time, his teammate posted his own first time, well off the pace. Ricciardo (1:25.672) led Pic, Rosberg, Schumacher, and Perez twenty minutes in, with ten drivers having set times. That lasted only seconds, as Rosberg and Raikkonen both bettered the rookie’s time.

Times continued to drop as drivers settled into actual lapping as halfway approached. That led to rather a lot of traffic, with drivers looking for clear track and attempting to keep from blocking each other. Just before halfway, the times seemed to have set in their order though Vettel and the Ferraris had yet to set a time. The German went seventh fastest on his first time.

Halfway:
Perez (1:24.554) was fastest at halfway, followed by Maldondado, Hamilton, Vergne, Rosberg, Kobayashi, Vettel, Picciardo, Raikkonen, and Webber the top ten. Button was thirteenth, Massa, fourteenth, and Alonso had yet to set a time. His first time put him third fastest a couple of minutes later. At McLaren, Hamilton got a new steering wheel after his engineer came out of the garage and told a mechanic “give him this” is what appeared to be a practice wheel change. He did not pull away, but instead got pushed back into the garage. Vettel soon dropped a bit of time from his fast lap to go a tenth faster than Alonso. At the top, Rosberg displaced Perez by going nearly a half second faster on the soft tyres.

On the track, Massa spoke to Rob Smedley on the radio, apologizing for making a mistake and complaining of low grip levels even in the slightly cooler conditions. Vergne became the next driver to go fastest with a 1:23.833 on the soft tyres, only to be eclipsed by Perez moments later. Rosberg remained third with his time set on soft tyres while the rest of the field either remained in the garage or on the harder compound as the final twenty minutes began. Schumacher next began his soft tyre lap, bettering his time from seventeenth to ninth, despite losing the rear a bit. Meanwhile, Vettel had to get out if his Red Bull, as the mechanics changed a control unit in his car.

15 Minutes Remaining:
As the final quarter of the session began, Grosjean suited up to get back in his Lotus. At that point, just before most of the drivers switched to soft tyres, Perez (1:23.742) led Vergne, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Maldonado, Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton, Schumacher, Kobayashi, and Webber as the top eleven. Button was seventeenth fastest. Most drivers sat in the garage as the final ten minutes approached, waiting for a final quali simulation run on soft tyres. No one was yet improving with eight minutes to go, but about half the field circulated at that time. Alonso moved up first, going just .065s slower than Perez.

5 Minutes Remaining:
For the final five minutes, Perez led Alonso, Vergne, Raikkonen, and Rosberg as the top five. Only Vettel, Glock, and Grosjean remained in the garage. Hamilton moved up next, posting a fastest overall first sector, second sector, and getting caught behind both Raikkonen and the much slower Karthikeyan to stay thirteenth. Kobayashi went fastest overall, with Webber slotting in just behind. Maldonado then went faster than the Japanese driver. After Glock pulled off at pit out, just beyond the start/finish with a detached left rear, a few fast laps were slightly ruined by waving yellow flags. Once the German cleared, Vettel went fastest of all.

Final Times for FP3, 2012 Spanish Grand Prix:

 DriverTeamTimeGapLaps
1. Sebastian VettelRed Bull1:23.168 13
2. Pastor MaldonadoWilliams1:23.3360.16819
3. Kamui KobayashiSauber1:23.3500.18219
4. Mark WebberRed Bull1:23.5780.41016
5. Sergio PerezSauber1:23.7420.57422
6. Fernando AlonsoFerrari1:23.8070.63915
7. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1:23.8330.66514
8. Jenson ButtonMcLaren1:23.9090.74113
9. Kimi RaikkonenLotus1:23.9360.76816
10. Nico RosbergMercedes1:24.0700.90224
11. Felipe MassaFerrari1:24.1791.01116
12. Nico HulkenbergForce India1:24.3231.15517
13. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso1:24.3311.16315
14. Bruno SennaWilliams1:24.4091.24118
15. Paul Di RestaForce India1:24.5991.43115
16. Lewis HamiltonMcLaren1:24.7781.61015
17. Michael SchumacherMercedes1:24.8251.65717
18. Vitaly PetrovCaterham1:25.9112.74320
19. Heikki KovalainenCaterham1:26.5873.41920
20. Charles PicMarussia1:27.4694.30118
21. Timo GlockMarussia1:27.6894.52116
22. Narain KarthikeyanHRT1:28.2075.03924
23. Pedro de la RosaHRT1:28.3735.20513
24. Romain GrosjeanLotusn/tn/t2
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