2013 Indian GP Practice Three: Sebastian Vettel untouchable again in truncated session
Smog delays session start, Red Bull focus on soft tyres, Alonso third
By James Galloway in Greater Noida. Last Updated: 26/10/13 11:03am
Sebastian Vettel: Can anyone stop him at the Buddh International?
Any hope rivals have of reining in Sebastian Vettel on pure pace at the Indian GP appear to have receded further after the World Champion stretched his advantage over the field to half a second in Practice Three.
In a Saturday morning session cut by a third to 40 minutes due to the medical helicopter initially having been able to take off due to Delhi's resident smog, Vettel took just a single flying lap to secure his 100% practice record with a soft-tyre lap of 1:25.332.
Once more Mark Webber finished second to ensure another Red Bull 1-2, but this time the Australian was half a second back on the sister RB9, with Fernando Alonso the only other established front runner to lap within a second of the flying Vettel.
While their pace deficit to Red Bull remains large, Ferrari rebounded from a difficult Friday - when Alonso completed only six laps in P2 with a gearbox problem - to show more promising pace relative to Constructors' Championship rivals Lotus and Mercedes with Alonso third and Felipe Massa sixth.
Further encouragement could perhaps also be taken from Red Bull's performance on the softer compound tyre. Although Vettel played the situation down on Friday night, the World Champion exclusively focused on the option compound in practice three in a simulation of what is likely to be his first race stint.
The German completed a ten-lap run, but the black wear stripe down the middle of his right-front by the end of the stint underlined the degradation issues most drivers have been suffering from on the soft.
Tyre strategy during Q3 on Saturday afternoon is therefore likely to be particularly intriguing, given the top ten must start on the same tyres they set their final lap for the grid, and the in-form Nico Hulkenberg will certainly be one driver whose tactics are watched closely, although the German's fourth-fastest time from final practice suggests Sauber could get in the mix on pure pace.
Should Hulkenberg's P3 pace transfer to qualifying then he could cause headaches for all three of the teams chasing second place in the Constructors' Championship - Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus.
With Kimi Raikkonen again toiling slightly down in 11th place, Romain Grosjean was once more the latter team's lead runner in fifth place with Mercedes pair Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton sandwiched McLaren's Jenson Button at the foot of the top ten.
Paul Di Resta, who last made Q3 at Spa and is fighting to save his F1 career, gave Force India hope of a strong home grand prix weekend by taking seventh place.
After the early delays to the session while race officials waited for visibility levels to improve, the track action was largely trouble free, although Marussia's Max Chilton did have a lurid spin at Turn Six.