2013 Belgian GP Practice Three: Sebastian Vettel ahead but Fernando Alonso closes in
No further tyre problems; Mercedes again well down the order
By James Galloway at Spa
Last Updated: 24/08/13 2:27pm
In a final practice session that saw no repeat of the punctures that affected both title rivals' cars during Friday afternoon, Pirelli having since put the cuts down to a loose shard of metal which reportedly dislodged from Kimi Raikkonen's car, it was the World Champion who led the way for the second successive dry session, this time with a best lap on the medium tyres of 1:48.327.
And while the German undoubtedly looks well set to try and end Lewis Hamilton's recent domination of pole position come qualifying, it was Alonso's pace in the F138 which suggests Ferrari may be poised to deliver the overdue step forward in pace they had targeted before the summer break.
The Spaniard, at the centre of so much speculation since Hungary, was only 0.105s slower than Vettel and a tenth clear of the other Red Bull of Mark Webber in third with an aggressive lap which suggests he has a strong car underneath him for the high-speed Spa challenge.
As was the case on Friday, however, neither Mercedes featured particularly prominently with Nico Rosberg ninth and Lewis Hamilton again out of the top ten in 12th with the latter once more not looking completely comfortable with his W04's set-up.
Having already locked up into the Bus Stop chicane early on into the session, Hamilton's car then swapped ends on him under braking soon after and he ended up 0.7s off Vettel's pace.
However, given Mercedes have claimed seven of the last eight pole positions, it would be wholly unwise to write the Brackley team off yet with the feeling in the paddock being that they have again spent the baulk of the three practice sessions running with heavier fuel.
Perhaps even more of a surprise was Jean-Eric Vergne's unusually lofty position in the top four, the Toro Rosso driver underlining his traditional liking for Spa with a best lap within half a second of Vettel.
Felipe Massa took fifth with Jenson Button sixth despite what appeared a trying session for the McLaren driver as initial problems with the MP4-28's rear suspension were followed by further delays when the plank underneath the car came loose.
McLaren also appeared to be comparing the merits of lower- and higher-downforce settings on Button's car but a switch to the former saw Button report over the radio that the car "still feels draggy and has less grip".
Joining Mercedes in the lower reaches of the top ten were Lotus, both Romain Grosjean (eighth) and Kimi Raikkonen (tenth) running without the passive DRS system after the team decided not to persevere with it after inconclusive results in Friday's changeable conditions.
Although P3 saw dry conditions throughout, rain is expected to arrive during the afternoon in the Ardennes which, should it appear during qualifying, could through this weekend's hitherto competitive order on its head.