Fernando Alonso set the quickest time of the weekend in final practice as the teams and drivers prepare for a critical qualifying session ahead of the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix.
The Spaniard, who set the pace on the opening day of practice repeated the feat again in Saturday warm up with a late flying lap that vaulted him into P1 by over half a second, ahead of championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa.
His lap of 1:44.506, which was the quickest of the weekend, was set on the harder of the two Bridgestone compounds, suggesting that they are the quicker tyres to be on in qualifying.
Nelson Piquet underlined Renault’s pace around the new street circuit by lapping fourth quickest, just behind Hamilton and Massa, but ahead of Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button and Robert Kubica.
Despite fears that the tropical Malayan climate would whip up thunderstorms for this weekend’s historic race, the new Singapore street circuit has so far been spared of wet weather, and the drivers took to the track for the third and final practice session in dry conditions, albeit with high track temperatures of 30-32 degrees Celsius.
Kimi Raikkonen took over from Timo Glock as the early pace-setter after setting a benchmark time of 1:46.482 just before the halfway mark.
Both Raikkonen and team-mate Felipe Massa elected to make their early runs on the softer of the two Bridgestone compounds available, suggesting that Ferrari, like Renault, will use the harder prime tyres for qualifying.
Raikkonen’s lap was quickly beaten by man of the moment Sebastian Vettel who usurped the Finn by over a second to bring the lap times into the 1m 45s bracket.
Nelson Piquet went quicker still with a 1:45.249 to top the timesheets and the Renault driver held onto the top spot until late into the session.
It was a full half an hour before either of the McLaren drivers ventured out onto the street circuit.
Heikki Kovalainen, who made a ‘joker’ engine change before the session, slotted into what was sixth place on the harder tyres, while Hamilton took the second spot behind the then pace-setter Nelson Piquet.
Late flying laps from Hamilton, Massa, and then Alonso so the trio vault to the top of the timesheets, while Jenson Button also impressed in the Honda winding up sixth at close of play.
Giancarlo Fissichella was the big casualty of the session. The Italian overshot the first chicane and clipped the kerbs with the raised rivets that have been the cause of considerable concern in the build up to the weekend.
Catching the kerbing sent his Force India airborne and pitched him straight into the barrier on the outside of the circuit. Fissichella was unhurt, but there was heavy damage to his suspension.
Kimi Raikkonen also came close to dropping out of the fray when he locked up at Turn 7 and ran straight on, just avoiding the wall. He had to be pushed behind the wall.