Lewis Hamilton (1:35.940) continued the Mercedes power domination of the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix weekend, going fastest of all in the final practice session. Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg, and Michael Schumacher were the only other drivers to really look to have a true qualifying style run at the end of the hourlong session in the dry conditions, as Mark Webber completed the fastest five. Sebastian Vettel was ninth fastest, with Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa again well off the pace in fifteenth and eighteenth, respectively.
Friday saw Mercedes power post the fastest lap times of the two sessions. Hamilton’s (1:36.106) fast lap came in the morning in cold and damp conditions that saw little running from most of the field. In fact, nearly half the drivers didn’t set a lap time until the final third of the session. Schumacher (1:35.973) set the fastest time in the much drier afternoon session, a session that saw the only incident of the weekend to that point. Timo Glock had a malfunction, as his front wing and nose cone detached form the Marussia as the German entered Turn 1.
He went skittering across the gravel trap and hit the tyre barrier sideways, later complaining of pain in his hands on the radio. Still, he seemed generally unhurt as the climbed on a scooter to head back to the pit lane. Rosberg, Schumacher, perez, and Kobayashi joined Hamilton as the fastest five in the morning while Hamilton, Vettel, Webber, and Rosberg did so behind Schumacher in the afternoon. In other news, the FIA announced Friday in China that the championship will be going to Bahrain next weekend while Lotus finally filed an official protest against Mercedes. It was unanimously denied by the stewards.
The sun shone Saturday morning as teams arrived at the circuit and continued to do so thinly through the smog and clouds as the final hour of practice got underway. The typical Kovalainen, Kobayashi, Karthikeyan rush started off the session as the light went green. Quickly, nine, then eleven, then fourteen drivers had hit the track. In the first three minutes, all but Vettel, Hamilton, and Alonso set an installation lap and headed directly back to the garage. Kovalainen went back out immediately for a second install lap as the rest of the field continued to set a single lap. All did so in the first five minutes of the session and no one was on track soon thereafter. Little happened in the first quarter of the session, as teams waited for other teams to get out and clear the track. No times were yet set as a few drivers headed back onto the circuit.
15 Minutes Elapsed:
Karthikeyan (1:43.624) set the first time, only to be supplanted by Grosjean, the Perez (1:37.853) at the top at the fifteen minute mark. Meanwhile, the track temperature was inching higher as some sun got onto the tarmac. Raikkonen’s first lap (1:37276) put him fastest, still over a second off the fastest Friday time. A few more drivers set times, with Rosberg then Schumacher posting the second fastest time. Twenty minutes into the session, only the Ferrari and McLaren drivers remained in the garage. Raikkonen led Schumacher, Rosberg, Maldonado, and Perez as the fastest five at that time, with just fifteen drivers setting times. Webber went second fastest on his first lap, just .087s slower than Raikkonen a few minutes later. More times went up as well, as soon only the McLaren and Ferrari drivers lacked set times at all.
Meanwhile, Rosberg (1:36.985) took fast lap from Raikkonen while the Finn returned to the garage. Webber next went fastest, still nine tenths slower than Schumacher’s time from Friday. The final four but Alonso rejoined the track twenty-five minutes into the session. On track, Vettel had issues with the front wheel locking mid-corner. On his own first lap, Hamilton popped into fourth fastest, a half second off Webber. Most drivers were already back into the garage as halfway approached.
A half hour into the session, Webber (1:36.879) still led over Rosberg, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Schumacher, Kobayashi, Button, Maldonado, Senna, and Alonso as the top ten. At Red Bull, Vettel underwent a rear tortient bar change as Hamilton moved up to third fastest. Alonso also improved, but only to eighth. Plenty of cars were out in the middle section of the practice session, but most seemed to be working on longer race runs rather than quick times. That is, but for Vettel, who languished down in seventeenth before leaping up to third fastest, less than two tenths slower than his teammate. No driver had yet to use the softer tyre compound.
Vergne was the first to do so, moving up to ninth on his first lap on the soft tyres. When twenty minutes remained, Schumacher (1:36.389) also looked to be on the move, going from seventh to fastest on a qualifying-style run. Teammate Rosberg went from second fastest to supplanting Schumacher at the top, over a tenth faster.
15 Minutes Remaining:
Only a few drivers were running at the one quarter remaining mark as Rosberg still led Schumacher with the same lap time over Webber, Vettel, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Maldonado, Kobayashi, Button, and Vergne as the top ten. Alonso was twelfth fastest, Massa eighteenth. Five minutes later, only Raikkonen, Button, Vergne, and Massa were actually lapping as most everyone waiting for a final quali practice dash. Button was out for the first time on his set of soft tyres, going purple in the middle sector. He moved from ninth to fastest of all on that lap (1:36.262). With eight minutes to go, half and more of the field made their way back out to go for some fast laps. Button improved by nearly exactly two tenths on his third lap of that run.
5 Minutes Remaining:
The order had not changed beyond Button leading Rosberg, Schumacher, Webber, Vettel, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Maldonado, Kobayashi, and Vergne as the top ten at the five minute mark. Hamilton looked to smoke his teammate on his own first soft tyre lap, and did so by just over a tenth. Otherwise, not too much changed in the order. Alonso sat too long in the garage with a front suspension change and got back out for just a couple of laps. Button dropped back into the garage with three minutes to go, joining Vergne who seemed unlikely to head back out at all. Both Toro Rossos and Button were actually taken over to the FIA weight scrutineering bay. As the session ended, it felt almost as though no one but McLaren and Mercedes had bothered much with a fast run for pole. In the end, Mercedes powered continued to rule the weekend. Di Resta added rather a large dollop of drama to the end of the session, losing the rear and nearly sliding sideways into the Armco into Turn 14. He continued on and went straight to the garage.
Final Times for FP3, 2012 Chinese Grand Prix:
Driver Team Time Gap Laps 1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1:35.940 13 2. Jenson Button McLaren 1:36.063 0.123 12 3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:36.389 0.449 16 4. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:36.512 0.572 17 5. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:36.635 0.695 16 6. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:36.765 0.825 17 7. Sergio Perez Sauber 1:36.781 0.841 19 8. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1:36.880 0.940 17 9. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:37.039 1.099 15 10. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:37.061 1.121 17 11. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:37.237 1.297 16 12. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:37.274 1.334 19 13. Paul Di Resta Force India 1:37.288 1.348 16 14. Bruno Senna Williams 1:37.425 1.485 14 15. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:37.465 1.525 12 16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:37.493 1.553 13 17. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:37.628 1.688 14 18. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:37.831 1.891 14 19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1:38.701 2.761 19 20. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1:39.198 3.258 19 21. Timo Glock Marussia 1:39.796 3.856 18 22. Charles Pic Marussia 1:40.048 4.108 17 23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1:41.263 5.323 14 24. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1:41.499 5.559 18