ABU DHABI, Nov 3, 2012 (AFP) - Briton Lewis Hamilton topped the times for McLaren in Saturday's third free practice session for this weekend's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The 27-year-old former world champion, who moves to Mercedes next year, clocked a best time of one minute and 42.130 seconds at the end of a one-hour session that he dominated ahead of his team-mate and compatriot Jenson Button.
Defending world champion and current series leader Sebastian Vettel produced the third fastest lap in the final seconds after being stranded in the Red Bull garage for most of the session for work on the rear brakes.
He finally joined the fray with only three minutes remaining and without a timed flying lap on the board, but produced his familiar speed as he leapt from last to third.
His nearest championship rival two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari was only eighth fastest and team-mate Brazilian Felipe Massa 11th on the day after the Italian team had broken Formula One's curfew for the second successive night.
This rule defines the hours when the teams are not permitted to be in the paddock working and Ferrari have now used up two of their permitted four breaks in the space of as many days.
Alonso has been given a revised front wing, new under-chassis barge boards and rear wing to use at the Yas Marina circuit, but appeared to struggle to produce a fast lap time in third practice.
Vettel's brief cameo of speed was a crushing psychological blow to Alonso and Ferrari as he appeared to find the pace of car and circuit almost immediately in searing heat that produced an air temperature of 32 degrees Celsius and a track temperature of 44 degrees.
Only McLaren produced the speed and consistency to emerge as real challengers with a hope of ending Red Bull's rollercoaster run of dominance and wreck their hopes of a fourth straight front row lockout, a feat last achieved by McLaren themselves in 1998.
Nico Hulkenberg, who is moving to Sauber next year, was fifth fastest for Force India ahead of the leading Lotus of Romain Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado of Williams and eighth-placed Alonso.
Kimi Raikkonen was ninth in the second Lotus ahead of Paul Di Resta in the second Force India, Massa, and McLaren-bound Mexican Sergio Perez of Sauber.
The two Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and seven-time champion Michael Schumacher were 13th and 14th.
Below the times frot he third practice session:
|3||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing||1:42.614||0.484||7|
|4||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing||1:42.743||0.613||18|
|5||12||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||1:42.750||0.620||19|
|10||11||Paul di Resta||Force India||1:43.338||1.208||19|
|18||16||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||1:44.149||2.019||19|
|23||22||Pedro de la Rosa||HRT||1:46.554||4.424||20|