Sebastian Vettel was fastest in final practice ahead of qualifying for the Malaysian GP
World Champion tops session ahead of Hamilton and Sutil
By Mike Wise at Sepang
Last Updated: 23/03/13 10:51am
The World Champion lapped the 5.543km Sepang track in the time of 1:36.435 seconds. Lewis Hamilton was just over a tenth of a second slower in second place with Force India's Adrian Sutil third.
Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber finished fourth ahead of Australian Grand Prix winner Kimi Raikkonen while Paul di Resta further confirmed Force India's promising start to the season with the sixth fastest time.
Ferrari had a low-key session, meanwhile, with Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso eighth and tenth fastest respectively. They finished slower than McLaren's Jenson Button, with the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg completing the top ten.
The session proved a busy one after a rain shower in Friday's second practice thwarted teams' attempts to undertake a meaningful comparison of the medium and hard tyres nominated this weekend.
Then, at least, they were able to gain knowledge of a potential crossover from wet to dry conditions should it rain - which it tends to mid-afternoon - later on Saturday and on race day itself.
More rain fell overnight, meaning that a lot of the rubber laid down on Friday had been washed away. Perhaps as a result, some drivers - including Raikkonen - were heard complaining of balance issues.
Red Bull were out early undertaking long runs, with Vettel getting very out of shape exiting Turn 14 on his in-lap.
Both Vettel and Webber completed 13 to 14-lap runs on the hard tyre, with Vettel starting in the mid-1:43s and finishing about two seconds slower.
Rivals were not quite so heavily-fuelled at that stage. Raikkonen, Rosberg and Sutil were all lapping about five to six seconds quicker before Hamilton went fastest (1:37.527s) on the hard tyre about 20 minutes in.
Rosberg switched to the mediums about ten minutes later and went about six tenths quicker than Button, who was still on hard tyres but apparently on low fuel. Soon after, Hamilton had his own qualifying practice run and moved P1 again (1:36.568s).
Webber lapped 0.045s slower while Vettel was almost a second down on Hamilton. However, he went out again in the closing minutes to set what proved to be the session's fastest lap.
In between times, Button changed to mediums and moved to within three tenths of Hamilton. Much as was the case at the Australian GP, though, McLaren soon found themselves bumped down the order by Force India.
McLaren are, by their own admission, struggling at the start of the season and Sergio Perez, who locked up in particularly lurid style at one stage, ended the session 1.103s off Vettel's pace in 12th.
Williams, too, are trying to understand why their car lacks performance, yet Pastor Maldonado - who was 3s off Vettel's pace this time last week - ended P3 less than a second down in 11th. Team-mate Valtteri Bottas was 15th.