JEREZ, Spain, Feb 7, 2013 (AFP) - Brazil's Felipe Massa topped the time charts on the third day of pre-season Formula One testing Thursday as world champion Sebastian Vettel marked his first appearance of the winter with third place.
Massa, whose future at Ferrari had been the subject of much speculation after his disappointing eighth place finish last season, clocked 1min 17.879sec as he thrived in the absence of teammate Fernando Alonso, who is sitting out the four-day session.
His time just edged the week's previous best set by Lotus driver Romain Grosjean on Wednesday.
Massa was the only driver on Thursday to dip below the 1min 18sec mark with Mercedes' Nico Rosberg setting the second fastest time of 1:18.766 and Vettel, in the new Red Bull RB9, clocking 1:19.052.
Rosberg's performance was a welcome relief after the German had managed just 15 laps on Tuesday, his track time limited by mechanical trouble.
His Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton's car had suffered a brake failure on its first outing on Wednesday.
"I'm very happy with today and I think it was probably a personal record for me to do almost 150 laps," said Rosberg, whose 148 laps beat the Mercedes record of 132 in a day set by Michael Schumacher last year.
"I've never been so well-prepared physically as I am this season; I feel on top form and it was no problem to complete the programme. To drive the distance from Silverstone to Spa in one day with no problems whatsoever is a fantastic achievement from the team."
Vettel did over 100 laps before heading back to the pits where his mechanics quickly erected a black screen to frustrate the prying eyes of rival teams eager for a look at the team who have guided the German to three successive world titles.
"So far, I think we can be pretty happy," said Vettel, as he builds towards the season-opener in Melbourne on March 7.
"(Teammate) Mark (Webber) had a good couple of days to start with and I took over today. It was great to get back in the car, to get rid of the rust and to get back in the groove again.
"At this stage it's very difficult to judge anything else. It could be that there is a favourite after these three tests, but it could turn out to be
completely different in Australia because it's a different track with different characteristics.
"I expect the championship to be at least as tight as last year, as the regulations haven't changed so much."
The day's most dramatic incident occured when British driver James Rossiter accidentally collided with one of his Force India mechanics, who escaped serious injury.
The best times of the session:
|1.||Felipe Massa||Ferrari F138||1:17.879||85|
|2.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes W04||1:18.766||148|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull RB9||1:19.052||102|
|4.||Kimi Raikkonen||Lotus E21||1:19.200||40|
|5.||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso STR8||1:19.247||85|
|6.||James Rossiter||Force India VJM06||1:19.303||42|
|7.||Jenson Button||McLaren MP4-28||1:19.603||83|
|8.||Esteban Gutierrez||Sauber C32||1:19.934||110|
|9.||Max Chilton||Marussia MR02||1:21.269||78|
|10.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams FW34||1:21.575||86|
|11.||Charles Pic||Caterham CT03||1:22.352||57|
|12.||Paul di Resta||Force India VJM06||1:23.729||7|