F1 China FP3 Results & Report: Vettel Fastest Again, Button & Hamilton Still Close

What Happens When Things Seem a Bit Clearer

12:18am EST — Sebastian Vettel completed a hat trick of the practice sessions for the 2011 Chinese Grand Prix, topping the timesheets (1:34.968) in the Saturday morning session. He led Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, and Fernando Alonso as the fastest five, though the times throughout the latter half of the session often came fast and furious. For the second session in a row, Mark Webber remained unable to match his teammate’s pace after again falling afoul of his KERS system. He never managed a final soft tire run, with his fastest time on hard tires only good enough for fifteenth fastest. Though he spent much of the session near the top, Michael Schumacher was ninth fastest when it ended.

Though Vettel was fastest in both the Friday morning and afternoon sessions at Shanghai, his quickness came in two entirely separate ways. In the morning, Vettel outpaced everyone but teammate Webber (six tenths back) by two seconds or more, but in the afternoon, he spent much of the session focusing on longer runs and well down the order. In the final third of the session, he came alive, but was just under two tenths faster than Hamilton. Webber, meanwhile, remained well down in tenth. As has become usual in 2011, only Hamilton and teammate Button came close, though Rosberg and Schumacher helped Mercedes power dominate the top five of the second practice. Though Ferrari is usually slower on Friday, Alonso lost much of the second session to a hydraulic issue. Heidfeld was Quick-ish Nick (fifth fastest) in the morning, though he managed to mangle the front of his Renault in both extremely smoggy sessions.

di Resta was the first out into the smog on Saturday morning, after no running on Friday. Barely two minutes later, two thirds of the field was already circulating for the final practice session before qualifying. All drivers completed an installation lap before five minutes were gone from the hour-long session. Nearly everyone was immediately back into the garage.

Schumacher, presumably on his second installation lap, informed the team that the brakes were pulling to one side, while they responded that the temperature was also a bit hot. Most teams kept the cars in the garage, and no one had set a time fifteen minutes into the session. di Resta was back out, continuing his first laps of the circuit in an F1 car, and was soon joined by both HRTs, then Schumacher, and Glock. di Resta set the first time (1:40.459) sixteen minutes into the session.

More drivers began filtering back onto the track, though twenty minutes into the session, only Schumacher (1:38.516), di Resta, Liuzzi, and Karthikeyan had set times, in that order. More times continued to be set as the minutes ticked away. After a terribly smoggy Friday, the air Saturday seemed nearly clear in comparison, though the sky was still a thick grey and weather cooler.

Rosberg, then Button (1:37.367) bettered Schumacher’s time, with thirteen times set twenty-six minutes into the session. Quickly, Hamilton then Vettel did so as well, with the championship leader beating Hamilton by less than a tenth. As the track gained grip, Rosberg and Button also went faster. Both posted lap times quicker than Vettel’s on Friday, though Button was just .004s faster than the young German. Soon, though, Vettel was through again, and quickest of all (1:36.053) by over eight tenths. Meanwhile, Alonso was fifth fastest. Only Trulli, Massa, and Webber had yet to set a time halfway through the session.

Vettel led Button, Rosberg, Hamilton, Petrov, Alonso, Alguersuari, Perez, Schumacher, and Barrichello as the fastest ten with a half hour left. Only Button and Rosberg were within a second of Vettel’s time, with Schumacher and the rest more than two seconds slower. Five minutes later, only Webber had yet to set a time. Times and standings continued to change rapidly, as about half the drivers were out setting laps. Webber’s run to set a time was aborted as he had an off-and-on at Turn 6, and a continuing KERS issue.

With twenty minutes left, Schumacher was extraordinarily quick to set a time just .088s off Vettel’s best lap. Button, Rosberg, and Alonso completed the top five at that point, though Rosberg quickly posted his own fast lap (1:35.677) to take the top position away from his countryman, and by over three tenths.

Webber was back out when fifteen minutes remained, with Rosberg, Vettel, Schumacher, Button, Alguersuari, Barrichello, Alonso, Hamilton, Massa, and Kobayashi the top ten. Petrov, in eleventh, was nearly precisely two seconds off Rosberg’s pace. On his first time, Webber went fifth fastest, only to be replaced by Buemi, with both Toro Rosso drivers clearly pushing for good times and possible entries to Q3 later in the day.

All times set would be within the 107% rule with ten minutes remaining. Karthikeyan and Liuzzi, the slowest cars and both just over six seconds off Rosberg’s pace, were within the 6.697s allowed by the rule, if that were the times in Q1. At that time, only the Ferraris were on track, though most drivers were about to go back out for a final dash before qualifying.

Alonso improved his time to fourth, while teammate Massa was informed by Rob Smedley that he had been shifting a little be late on his previous lap. Something must have worked properly, as Massa was soon second fastest, though Button moved to the top soon thereafter. Neither could come close to Vettel, who was on a fast lap indeed, becoming the first man of the weekend with a time under 1:35s (1:34.968) with five minutes to go. At that point, all drivers but Buemi, Webber, and Heidfeld were on the track.

Hamilton, only eleventh fastest, narrowly kept his McLaren out of the gravel and on the runoff area at Turn 2, but continued on without damagaing more than his lap time, as he dropped to thirteenth fastest. With less than two minutes to go, Vettel, Schumacher, and Webber were all in the garage while the rest looked for clear track and a go at quicker laps on soft tires. Hamilton moved up to third fastest at the end, while Alonso beat out Massa for fifth.

Final Times for FP3, Chinese Grand Prix:

Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:34.968 13
2. Jenson Button McLaren 1:35.176 +0.208 15
3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1:35.373 +0.405 14
4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 1:35.677 +0.709 18
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:35.818 +0.850 17
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:35.971 +1.003 15
7. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1:36.098 +1.130 18
8. Adrian Sutil Force India 1:36.125 +1.157 15
9. Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP 1:36.141 +1.173 14
10. Paul di Resta Force India 1:36.370 +1.402 18
11. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1:36.404 +1.436 16
12. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1:36.582 +1.614 18
13. Sergio Perez Sauber 1:36.596 +1.628 17
14. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 1:36.717 +1.749 16
15. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:36.896 +1.928 5
16. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1:37.953 +1.985 14
17. Rubens Barrichello Williams 1:37.007 +2.039 20
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:37.304 +2.336 18
19. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1:38.176 +3.208 12
20. Jarno Trulli Lotus 1:38.739 +3.771 12
21. Timo Glock Virgin Racing 1:39.938 +4.970 17
22. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin Racing 1:39.998 +5.030 16
23. Tonio Liuzzi HRT 1:40.593 +5.625 17
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1:40.881 +5.913 18

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