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Vettel tops timesheets in final practice

NEWS STORY
23/03/2013

Ahead of today's free practice session, the air temperature is 32 degrees C, while the track temperature is 40 degrees. It is bright and sunny with humidity currently running at 51 percent.

While Mark Webber was quickest in yesterday morning's session, Melbourne winner Kimi Raikkonen was quickest in the afternoon.

Red Bull and Lotus appear to have the edge, the Enstone car, in particular, extremely kind to its tyres. This of course, as we saw in Australia, is coupled with a revitalised Finn.

Ferrari is clearly up there, with Felipe Massa also looking to be somewhat revitalised, with Mercedes also continuing to show signs of improvement.

While McLaren continues to disappoint, Force India continues to impress, while Toro Rosso has lost a little of the sparkle we witnessed last week.

There continues to be criticism of the Pirelli rubber - so what's new - but as the Italian manufacturer points out, and has continually pointed out; it is easy to make a tyre that lasts an entire race however, its mandate was to build a tyre that didn't and thereby spice up the action. Interestingly, one of the most vocal critics is Red Bull.

There was added spice in yesterday's second session, the inters and full wets making an appearance alongside the prime (hard) rubber and option (medium).

Clearly a man on a mission, Raikkonen is one of the first out of the garage once the lights go green, the Finn joined by Ricciardo, Bianchi, Chilton, Vergne and Grosjean.

Unusually, for FP3, most drivers simply complete an installation lap and return to the pits, much like FP1. Within the first couple of minutes all but Gutierrez and di Resta have been out. There is furious action in the Force India garage, while the Mexican's day ended early yesterday due to a broken exhaust… not forgetting his fire extinguisher moment.

Webber is one of the few that stays out, the Australian posting a 44.486 however, this is instantly beaten by Van der Garde who posts 41.348. Shortly after Pic posts 41.040.

Back on track Raikkonen doesn't waste any time in getting down to business, the Lotus driver starting off with a 38.474. Everyone on primes thus far as they focus on longer runs.

A 38.218 sees Rosberg go quickest as Vettel goes seventh (43.343). All but the Ferraris, Williams and McLarens are on track.

As Hamilton goes quickest (37.527), a surprise visitor to the Caterham pit is Heikki Kovalainen. As he watches the green and yellow car from the safety of the garage he must be thinking he had a lucky escape, especially since he was expected to pay for the privilege.

It's that man Sutil again, the Melbourne wonder going second with a 37.541 as teammate di Resta posts 37.896 to go third.

As Bottas goes seventh (38.588) and Chilton becomes the first to try the options, Button, Massa, Maldonado and Perez remain the only drivers yet to post a time.

Di Resta goes quickest in S1 and while he improves overall (37.769), he slips to fourth when Grosjean improves to third (37.746).

Still very early days but of those that have posted times, Webber and Vettel are the slowest, the Austrian team really anxious about its tyres. Replay shows Webber running very wide at T11 and Vettel at T8.

On the option rubber, Bianchi improves to thirteenth, the Frenchman a true revelation this year.

At 'half-time', it's: Hamilton, Sutil, Raikkonen, Grosjean, di Resta, Button, Rosberg, Bottas, Alonso and Perez.

Mercedes appears to be suffering its age old problem, Rosberg told he needs to generate more heat in his front tyres and therefore must create more "brake energy".

The first of the front runners to switch to options, Rosberg goes quickest (36.949) but just 0.572s quicker than Button who is on the primes. Massa complains of understeer.

Hamilton, now on the options, goes quickest in S1 as his teammate fails to improve overall, his softer rubber only good for one hot lap. Hamilton is quickest again in S2, finally crossing the line at 36.568. Niki Lauda watches impassively from the Mercedes garage.

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