The final session of free practice for the 2013 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix at Sepang on Saturday turned things on their head as a jump in track temperature to 40 degrees Celsius changed some cars for the worse and some for the better.
Sebastian Vettel seemed to be in all sorts of trouble for a while, as he and Red Bull team mate Mark Webber slithered about, but right at the end he beat Lewis Hamilton to fastest time with a lap of 1m 36.435s on the medium compound Pirelli tyre. Hamilton’s best for Mercedes was 1m 36.568s, and he had Force India’s Adrian Sutil right on his tail with 1m 36.588s.
Every driver discovered that the medium tyre has a very finite life, and as Hamilton showed at the end, and McLaren’s Sergio Perez earlier on, it is extremely intolerant to locking up. Both of them spoiled tyres that way.
Webber backed Vettel with the fourth-fastest time in 1m 36.613s, but Kimi Raikkonen in fifth place for Lotus on 1m 36.806s was one of the drivers who was left scratching his head at the way his car had changed. Force India’s Paul di Resta was right with him on 1m 36.807s, while in seventh place Jenson Button proved the surprise of the session with a lap of 1m 36.822s in the hitherto unloved McLaren MP4-28.
Ferrari had a tough time, with Felipe Massa their faster runner on 1m 36.946s which left him just ahead of Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg on 1m 36.949s, while Fernando Alonso was an unhappy 10th on 1m 37.302s.
There were signs of improvement for Williams, too, with Pastor Maldonado 11th on 1m 37.359s ahead of Perez on 1m 37.538s, then came Nico Hulkenberg for Sauber on 1m 37.685s, Lotus’s Romain Grosjean, who spoiled a better lap by running off the road, on 1m 37.690s, and Valtteri Bottas on 1m 37.936s.
Esteban Gutierrez headed the Toro Rossos, with 1m 38.294s to Jean-Eric Vergne’s 1m 38.376s and Daniel Ricciardo’s 1m 38.425s, while Charles Pic gave Caterham a big fillip with 19th fastest on 1m 38.995s. Jules Bianchi was 20th for Marussia on 1m 39.717s, ahead of Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde on 1m 40.209s and Marussia’s Charles Pic on 1m 40.495s.
If the practice sessions are anything to go by, qualifying is going to be very hard fought.