Alonso quickest in FP3; Hamilton fires warning shot to Massa
Fernando Alonso brought himself firmly into play in the title showdown between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa in Brazil after topping the timesheets in final practice.
Alonso, who set the pace during practice on Friday, once again pipped the front runners to the top spot by posting a blistering 1:12.141 around the bumpy Interlagos circuit in the dying seconds of the session, edging out the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen.
The Spaniard has been a consistent threat to the supremacy of McLaren and Ferrari in the latter stages of the championship, and although he has no invested interest in the championship, his desire to see Massa triumph is well known.
The underlying pace of the R28 around the Interlagos track suggests that the Renault driver could be a decisive factor in the outcome of the world championship, for example, by holding up Hamilton.
Behind him Hamilton, who struggled with the balance of his McLaren on Friday, reminded onlookers that he has no intention of being a bystander in Sunday’s pivotal Brazilian Grand Prix (despite only needing to finish fifth or higher to clinch the championship) after dominating the majority of the session and keeping Felipe Massa at bay.
Massa wasn’t far behind though and looked the more comfortable of the two drivers on the soft tyres. The Brazilian was usurped by Heikki Kovalainen in the sister McLaren in the closing stages, and the Finn’s pace suggests he is well poised to help McLaren challenge Ferrari for the constructors’ title.
How the session unfolded…
Conditions were dry and sunny for the final practice session, a marked improvement over Friday’s overcast skies and drizzle. Track and ambient temperatures too were up on Friday and continued to improve throughout the session. That seemed to play into the hands of Hamilton, who struggled with his tyres on the opening day of running.
Ferrari carried their form from Friday into Saturday and continued to look strong with Kimi Raikkonen setting a benchmark time of 1:12.881 on the harder tyres.
But that was quickly beaten by Heikki Kovalainen who affirmed McLaren’s step forward in performance from Friday where both drivers struggled with balance.
Championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa left the garage with twenty minutes into the session, both drivers receiving a warm reception from the Sau Paulo crowd – though it was undeniably Massa with the biggest weight on his shoulders.
Hamilton drew the first blood by vaulting to the top of the timesheets with a lap of 1:12.278 around the bumpy Interlagos circuit.
Massa was unable to respond and slotted into second place, two tenths of a second adrift. He brought the gap down later in the session when he switched to soft tyres.
Hamilton, unlike Massa was unable to improve his initial benchmark on the soft tyres, and struggled to generate heat into the Bridgestone rubber throughout the lap with multiple lock-ups.
Only on his final flying lap was Hamilton able to improve, but his position at the top of the timesheets was short lived with Alonso going quickest at the close.
Sebastian Vettel was fifth fastest behind Massa and Kovalainen, but ahead of Nick Hiedfeld and team mate Sebastien Bourdais.
Mark Webber hustled his Red Bull to eighth place ahead of Nelson Piquet in the sister Renault. Jarno Trulli rounded out the top ten.