Practice Three: Vettel moves well clear

World Champion over half a second faster than Hamilton in P3

By Mike Wise in Yeongam.   Last Updated: 13/10/12 5:29am

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Sebastian Vettel was fastest by over half a second in final practice ahead of qualifying for the Korean Grand Prix on Saturday.

The defending World Champion lapped the 5.615km Korea International Circuit in a time of one minute 37.642 seconds, 0.527s quicker than the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton's team-mate, Jenson Button, was third fastest ahead of Lotus's Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen, with Championship leader Fernando Alonso sixth for Ferrari.

Vettel's Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber might, perhaps, have been the only driver able to challenge him at the top of the timesheets.

However, the Australian was unable to go out on the faster super-soft tyres in the closing moments after his car apparently developed an engine problem.

Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Pastor Maldonado (Williams) and Nico Hulkenberg (Force India) completed the top 10.

The session appeared to confirm that the strong form Red Bull and Vettel have shown in both Singapore and Japan apears set to continue for this weekend at least.

He and Webber ran one-two in Friday's second practice session, with rivals McLaren and Ferrari once again to console themselves with the prospect of stronger race pace at least.

It was Button who led for McLaren on Friday after Hamilton, who had gone fastest in P1, struggled with his set-up during the afternoon.

Hamilton appeared happier come Saturday morning, although the margin to the lead Red Bull will doubtless provide food for thought.

With Lotus set to run their new Coanda exhaust on Raikkonen's car for the remainder of the weekend, the Finn was the first driver to attempt a flying lap.

After backing out of his first attempt, Raikkonen set the early benchmark of 1:39.748 before whittling hundredths off.

Vettel's first run on softs saw him go fastest by six tenths, with Webber improving on that by three tenths soon after.

Installation laps aside, McLaren and Ferrari both stayed in the garage until the final half of the session when track conditions were at their best.

Alonso placed himself between the Red Bulls almost immediately with a lap of 1:39.084s while Massa moved sixth.

Hamilton's first run saw him move to within 0.079s of Webber, with Button then going three hundredths of a second faster.

Hamilton then went P1 with a lap of 1:38.464s but with 20 minutes to go, Vettel responded with a 1:38.215s - the fastest time of all on the soft tyre.

It was as teams were preparing to go out on super-softs that the problem with Webber's car became apparent.

Red Bull and Renault engineers went into a huddle around the rear of the car and although they attempted to send him out before the end of the session, their efforts were in vain.

It was later revealed that Webber's engine suffered a data set issue, which has been fixed ahead of qualifying.

Alonso's first lap on super-softs was only good enough for sixth fastest, with Raikkonen bumping him down a place.

Vettel then took a couple of tenths off his previous best - the same margin Hamilton initially came within when he put the red tyre on.

The World Champion stayed out, though, and became the only driver to dip below the 1:38s barrier after the chequered flag dropped.

Button, meanwhile, improved to within four tenths of his team-mate, despite almost touching the HRT of Narain Karthikeyan under braking at Turn 3 on his final lap.

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