P3: Button continues his recovery
Confidence boost for McLaren driver as Lotus also show speed
By Mike Wise in Valencia. Last Updated: June 23, 2012 11:41am
Jenson Button set the pace in final practice ahead of qualifying for the European Grand Prix in Valencia on Saturday.
The McLaren driver, who finished a lapped 16th behind team-mate and race winner Lewis Hamilton in Canada two weeks ago, gave himself a much-needed confidence boost by lapping the 5.419km street circuit in a time of 1:38.562 seconds.
Lotus pair Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen were second and third fastest respectively while Force India further confirmed the promise they showed in Friday practice with Nico Hulkenberg fourth ahead of team-mate Paul di Resta.
Sauber's Sergio Perez was sixth ahead of Mercedes' Michael Schumacher, with Hamilton, Ferrari's Felipe Massa and Williams driver Pastor Maldonado completing the top 10.
Fernando Alonso was 12th ahead of Friday's pacesetter Sebastian Vettel. However, the World Champion's Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber completed just four laps after his car developed a braking problem.
Sky Sports F1's Allan McNish said of the session: "I have to say the Lotuses look very impressive but also that Jenson has grabbed a hold of the McLaren and found pace that wasn't there yesterday."
Both McLaren drivers sounded cautious after finishing well down the order on Friday afternoon, although Button did stress that set-up changes were coming overnight.
They appear to have had a positive effect if Saturday's hour-long outing is anything to go by, with Lotus seemingly in the same situation.
Grosjean and Raikkonen were the first drivers to take to the track, the session an important one for Lotus who are much-fancied this weekend but in need of vital tenths over a single lap.
With Grosjean having impressed with his long-run pace on Friday, both he and Raikkonen were lapping around the 1:40s mark on the prime, medium compound, tyre early on.
Raikkonen was second to Hamilton in the opening minutes with Grosjean fourth behind Button before Maldonado and then Vettel went fastest, the latter setting a lap of 1:39.448s just past the half-hour mark.
Lotus then sent Grosjean out on the soft tyre, with the Frenchman immediately going quickest of all by 0.779s on a qualifying simulation run.
Most drivers waited until the final 10 minutes to have softs bolted on to their cars, with Raikkonen going a tenth slower than his team-mate before Button went top by 0.093s.
Vettel also attempted a qualifying simulation late on but ran wide at Turn 2. By that stage, though, Webber was out of his car - the rear brake problem on his RB8 giving Red Bull's mechanics much work to do ahead of qualifying.
Earlier, Ferrari had waited longer than anyone in taking to the track, with Alonso also locking up, this time at Turn 12, during the closing minutes.