|© Foto Studio Colombo/Ferrari
Fernando Alonso emerged as the quickest driver in the third and final practice session for the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday, recovering from a spin early in his run in what his team described was a “harmless trip through the gravel”.
The Spaniard was “testing the limit” when he spun at Turn 2 and ended up backwards in the gravel with just over 20 minutes remaining in the session. He rejoined the track and headed back to the pits where mechanics inspected the car for any potential damage or lodged debris.
The Ferrari driver then clocked a time of 1 minute 33.247 seconds around the 5.4km Bahrain International Circuit leaving the two Red Bull drivers trailing behind by a tenth.
Sebastian Vettel was second but was held up on his quick run by the Caterham of Charles Pic in the closing stages, annoying the German, and later went wide off the circuit on his final lap.
Mark Webber was third ahead of Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen, who was quickest on Friday.
A different driver topped the three practice sessions, suggesting a wide open race on Sunday that has been overshadowed by anti-government protesters who are demanding a greater say in the divided Gulf nation.
Lewis Hamilton was fifth but significantly suffered a suspension failure on his Mercedes towards the end of practice, leaving the Briton’s participation in qualifying later in the day in doubt.
“Last thing the Mercedes boys need is major suspension part changes before qualifying. It's a busy two hours with a standard preparation!” former McLaren mechanic Marc Priestley mentioned on his Twitter page.
Also worryingly, the Briton had damaged his left rear tyre raising concerns about the Pirelli compounds.
“Looked like tyre delamination, resulting in suspension failure to me,” reckoned Priestly.
Romain Grosjean was sixth with the Force India pair of Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta next while Nico Rosberg and Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg rounded up the top ten.
Felipe Massa was 11th, ahead of the McLaren teammates Jenson Button and Sergio Perez, the Mexican a second off the leading pace.
At the back, Caterham’s upgrades worked and appeared to have the upper hand over its immediate rivals Marussia, even though Jules Bianchi split Pic and his teammate Giedo van der Garde despite the Frenchman’s car catching a minor fire in the garage.
Max Chilton lost track time with a KERS issue consequently completing the least number of laps with seven.
But it was Esteban Gutierrez who registered the slowest time of the day in a programme where the Mexican collected the most mileage in the 60 minutes by completing 29 laps.