The 2012 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix, at the Suzuka circuit, seems set for an exciting qualifying and race, after Red Bull, the defending constructors' champion, finished the third and final practice session on top of the timesheets.
Where to Watch Qualifying Live
Coverage of the session will start at 5 am BST and be available on Sky Sports F1 HD. In addition, free and live updates can be found via the Live Timing section on the sport's official Web site.
Third Free Practice Review
Sebastian Vettel, the defending world champion, and his team mate, Mark Webber, lapped in 1:32.136 and 1:32.371 respectively, to finish well ahead of the rest of the grid. Behind them was a string of surprising results, suggesting there is still much more drama to come in the hour-long qualifying session. Ferrari's Felipe Massa was third, the Brazilian producing a brilliant last-minute run to clock 1:32.824. However, such has been the Red Bull's dominance this weekend that it was still nearly half a second off Webber and almost seven-tenths off Vettel in first place.
The McLaren-Mercedes' of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were both well off the pace, which was very surprising given Hamilton, in particular, was earlier looking very quick. The 2008 champion finished second in both the first and second sessions. This time the British driver could only manage a dismal 13th with a time of 1:33.569. His team mate, Button, was a little better, with a 1:33.025 for eighth.
In between Massa in third and the McLarens at the tail of the top ten were Michael Schumacher of Mercedes and Sergio Perez of Sauber. Schumacher was particularly impressive in fourth, with a time of 1:32.918. The former Ferrari driver crashed towards the end of the second practice session on Friday, at the Spoon Curve, but there was no such drama this time around. Perez was very quick as well, finishing a fantastic two-thousandths of a second behind the German.
Meanwhile, the Lotus-Renault team continue to struggle around the high-speed Suzuka circuit. Romain Grosjean was once again the team's fastest driver and he finished seventh with 1:33.008. His team mate, Kimi Raikkonen (a world champion with Ferrari) was 12th with 1:33.224. In fact, the trio of Hamilton, Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso of Ferrari... all world champions... had a very disappointing third session.
Alonso, in particular, will desperately want improvement before qualifying starts. The Spaniard is the present championship leader but has been powerless to stop his rivals from eating into what was a substantial lead halfway through the season. Since the start of the second half of the season, from the Belgian Grand Prix, Alonso has neither won a race nor qualified on pole since the German Grand Prix in July and the lack of pace in the F2012 and race wins for McLaren and Red Bull has put a bid for a third world title in doubt.
The bottom line, though, as with the first two sessions, is that the times are incredibly close and competitive. For example, less than three-tenths of a second covers everybody from Massa in third to di Resta in ninth.
Top Ten Times (Free Practice 3)
- Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:32.136
- Mark Webber (Red Bull) 1:32.371
- Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1:32.824
- Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) 1:32.918
- Sergio Perez (Sauber) 1:32.920
- Kamui Kobayashi (Williams) 1:32.924
- Romain Grosjean (Lotus) 1:33.008
- Jenson Button (McLaren) 1:33.025
- Paul di Resta (Sahara Force India) 1:33.094
- Pasto Maldonado (Williams) 1:33.160
For more times, click here.
Qualifying Weather Preview
The biggest positive from the weekend so far has been the fact we have had no rain. Fortunately, the forecast is for more of the same. However, a growing bank of clouds over the Pacific Ocean may sneak in to provide a few light showers later in the day. The qualifying session is still expected to be dry but cloudy, with the chance of light showers towards the end of the day.