P3: Ferrari and McLaren do battle
Spaniard just pips Lewis before the rain falls, but limited running for Jenson
By Mike Wise at Hockenheim. Last Updated: 21/07/12 3:24pm
Fernando Alonso was fastest in third practice on Saturday morning ahead of qualifying for the German Grand Prix.
The currently World Championship leader lapped the 4.574km Hockenheim circuit in a time of 1:16.104 to end the session 0.077s clear of McLaren's Lewis Hamilton.
Sauber's Sergio Perez was third fastest ahead of Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen, with Red Bull's Mark Webber - who faces a five-place grid penalty in qualifying following a gearbox change - fifth fastest ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
Pastor Maldonado (Williams), Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber) and Bruno Senna (Williams) completed the top 10, while Jenson Button's McLaren propped up the timesheet.
Button was attempting to set a quicker time in the closing minutes, however heavy rain started to fall which brought a premature end to proceedings.
"Jenson will have definitely been hurt by that session, not getting some laps in and pushing the limits on a dry track.
Sky Sports F1's Damon Hill Quotes of the week
The majority of running took place in sunshine, although the rainstorm which enveloped the track as the chequered flag fell set the tone for what is forecast to be a wet qualifying session.
If so, the pattern would be similar to that seen at the British Grand Prix two weeks ago, where Alonso best exploited the conditions to claim pole position.
Speaking at the end of FP3, Sky Sports F1's David Croft said: "We go into qualifying not knowing the full picture. I've not a problem with that, but I think McLaren will have a problem because they don't have the low-fuel data they would have wanted."
Like McLaren, Lotus arrived at Hockenheim with a much-changed car - for Kimi Raikkonen at least.
However, the Finn was not using their new and, Lotus eventually hope, improved DRS system, despite his car still sporting its distinctive new air ducts either side of the roll hoop.
Webber, meanwhile, took to the track with a new gearbox after a hydraulic problem on its predecessor required a change late on Friday evening.
The Australian was briefly fastest as top spot ticked steadily over 20 minutes into the session, with both Williams drivers up there as well as Vettel.
Teams were working through their various programmes, trying out the two tyre compounds with varying fuel levels, with Alonso bolting on the softs and going quickest by over half a second about halfway through.
The Three drivers facing grid-slot penalties in qualifying:
Mark Webber - Red Bull.
Romain Grosjean - Lotus.
Nico Rosberg - Mercedes.
Hamilton then leapt up to top spot on mediums when his McLaren embarked on low-fuel runs before Alonso set the session's benchmark time, again on softs.
Further down the order, an engine change for Charles Pic's Marussia was required after an air leak was discovered before the session started.
Smart work by the team's mechanics ensured that he was out again with about 13 minutes to go but the young Frenchman's running was rendered even less meaningful when the rain arrived shortly afterwards.
Alonso's work was done by that stage, however Button's attempt to undertake a qualifying simulation was ended by the worsening track conditions.