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The Red Bull team locked out the front row albeit in the Final practice session at Suzuka as Sebastian Vettel reserved his best for the death as he outpaced his teammate Mark Webber right after chequered flag was waved. Mark Webber was 2nd ahead of Ferrari's Felipe Massa who finished the session as the highest placed Ferrari driver ahead of the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher and Sergio Perez.
The McLaren duo have plenty of pace in reserve and are still the team to beat this weekend as the final runs of both Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were impeded by traffic as they ended the session 8th and 13th respectively.
As the lights went green at the end of the pit lane, the crucial one hour session began under perfect racing conditions with the sun belting down on the track. Kimi Raikkonen in his Lotus E20 was first out on track, but it was the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, who hit the ground running as they traded fastest laps.
Indeed, the German duo of "Young Speedster" Rosberg and the "Mercurial" Schumacher had the track pretty much to themselves, as Rosberg set the marker with a 1.35.169 lap. Schumacher having just announced his decision to retire from the sport at the end of the season, immediately responded to go quickest with a rapid 1.34.234 lap.
The pace of the leaders was difficult to gauge, as on Friday McLaren's Jenson Button and Red Bull's "Gritty Aussie" Mark Webber headed the timesheets in the two sessions. However, the general consensus down the paddock is that it could be yet another ultra-close qualifying session, with the success of any final FP3 tweaks, paramount to gaining or losing positions on the starting grid!
Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button began the session from where they had left off on Friday, as they traded fastest laps, with Hamilton nosing ahead of his teammate with a scorching 1.33.569 laps with nothing at to separate the British duo, as Hamilton's time was just 0.052s ahead of Button's best.
Sebastian Vettel put his RB8 atop the timesheets with a stunning 1.33.215 lap, 0.3 s faster than Hamilton's best effort. Aussie Webber slotted into 4th place, as it was Red Bull and McLaren dominating proceedings at Suzuka. This is expected to be the order of running this weekend unless the Ferrari team pulls a rabbit out of the hat.
Championship Leader Fernando Alonso was down running in 8th place, as the Spaniard was seeing bouncing his way over the kerbs as this weekend could be yet another damage-limitation for the Asturian born driver. Felipe Massa, whose seat at the Maranello based marquee was under threat from the "Flying Mexican" Sergio Perez until last week, was running just ahead of his teammate in 7th place.
Meanwhile, "Iceman" Raikkonen seemed to be feeling a tad frustrated as the Enstone based Lotus decided against running their much-fancied "Double-DRS" yet again this season, as the Finn was unhappy with rear-stability on his black and gold E20.
The weekend seemed to be heading into disaster mode for the Force India team, as Nico Hulkenberg made it two crashes in as many practice sessions as the German crashed hard into the barriers at the 2nd Degner. Hulkenberg emerged unscathed, but it was massive damage at the front and rear of the Force India.
With 10 minutes to go, it was time to get adventurous as teams sent out their drivers fitted with the soft compounds with Qualifying simulation- meaning less fuel onboard and tumbling lap times.
Schumacher went fastest of all as he provisionally went P1 with the first lap time into the 1m32's as the 7times champion set a 1.32.918 lap.
Paul Di Resta who crashed his Force India at the high-speed downhill left-hander at Spoon yesterday, went 3rd fastest also on the soft tyres. Meanwhile one driver facing an adventure of a different kind was Raikkonen, as the Iceman had a moment at the hairpin with the rear-end of his E20 stepping out on him.
Button's ultra-quick lap was impeded by a slow moving Schumacher right into the fastest corner of the calendar at 130R, whilst Hamilton's quick lap was also ruined by traffic.
It was a Red Bull 1-2 as Webber with a 1.32.371 lap led the way from Vettel, as Brazilian Massa managed to steer clear of traffic, as he drove his F2012 to 3rd place. Vettel stole P1 from Webber at the death, as he went past his teammate with a stunning 1.32.136lap. However the weekend requires Alonso to drive a damage limitation race as he finished the session in a lowly 11th place.
Top 5: Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Felipe Massa, Michael Schumacher and Sergio Perez.
- 07/10/2012 11:01 - Raikkonen finishes in 6th place to bring home points for Lotus at Suzuka; Grosjean finishes outside the points after causing First Corner chaos
- 07/10/2012 10:59 - McLaren gain Constructors' Championship points aplenty at Japanese Grand Prix; Button 4th, Hamilton 5th
- 06/10/2012 11:28 - Supreme Vettel leads Red Bull front row lock out in Suzuka; Hamilton qualifies in a disastrous 9th place