August 24th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Sebastian Vettel has set the fastest time in final practice for the Belgian Grand Prix, a tenth of a second ahead of Fernando Alonso and a further tenth ahead of Mark Webber in the other Red Bull. Jean-Eric Vergne was an impressive fourth for Toro Rosso.
FP3 typically provides an indication of potential qualifying pace, as the teams normally run on fuel loads close to qualifying levels on the option tyres towards the end of the session. Today's session, however, provided more questions than answers. In particular, why are Mercedes so slow? Rosberg was ninth fastest, two-thirds of a second off the pace, with Hamilton back in 12th position, over seven tenths off the pace.
One possibility is Mercedes could be running wet setups on both cars, in the knowledge that qualifying and the race are both expected to be wet. If that is the case and the rain does not arrive, Hamilton and Rosberg could have a very long Sunday afternoon in the middle of the pack. On the other hand, if the rain does come down, they would find themselves extremely competitive.
Another possibility is Mercedes could be running heavier fuel loads than their rivals in an attempt to disguise their true pace. If that is the case, then qualifying will show what they really can do. It doesn't seem likely, however, as they did not feature at the top of the speed traps in each of the 3 sectors. It looks more like they are simply gambling on a setup more suited to wet weather.
The lap times were unusually close through the field. Considering that Spa-Francorchamps is the longest track on the F1 calendar, at just over 7 kilometres, it would not be surprising if the field were more spread out than usual. But in FP3, the top 15 drivers were separated by just under nine tenths of a second. If that reflects the true pace of the field, then qualifying is likely to be an extremely close affair.
There were two significant surprises in the top ten in FP3. Jean-Eric Vergne was fourth fastest, after leading the times before the medium compound tyres appeared in the final fifteen minutes. Perhaps more surprising, however, was Esteban Gutierrez, who set the seventh fastest time in his Sauber, just six tenths of a second off the pace. Perhaps the only completely expected result in the session was the presence of the Caterham and Marussia drivers at the bottom end of the results.
Full results from FP3:
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:48.327||16|
|3||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:48.533||0.206||16|
|13||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1:49.122||0.795||15|
|15||14||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:49.226||0.899||14|
|20||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||1:51.800||3.473||18|