Red Bull set out its challenge for a third straight pole position as Mark Webber led the way in final practice at Sepang, with Sebastian Vettel in third. But Friday pacesetter Lewis Hamilton kept McLaren in the thick of the fight as he split the Red Bull duo and lapped just 0.017sec slower than Webber.
For most of the morning Hamilton looked set to complete a clean sweep of fastest practice times in Malaysia. After being stuck in traffic on his first runs, the Briton established himself at the top of the times 25 minutes into the session, usurping early pacesetter Fernando Alonso (Ferrari). A soft tire run eight minutes later then saw Hamilton improve by a further half a second to 1m33.559s. His rivals edged closer, but no one was able to beat the McLaren until Red Bull began its qualifying simulations in the final three minutes.
Webber immediately went to the top with a 1m33.542s, while Vettel was on course to go quicker still before hitting traffic in the final sector, leaving him 0.028sec behind Hamilton and 0.045sec down on Webber.
Alonso remained fourth, with the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg completing the top six. Melbourne winner Jenson Button (McLaren) was seventh, followed by Felipe Massa's Ferrari, Rubens Barrichello's Williams and Robert Kubica's Renault.
The session was trouble-free for most drivers. Vettel had a slight problem with debris attaching itself to the front of his Red Bull, Heikki Kovalainen lost a piece of front wing from his Lotus over the kerbs, Vitaly Petrov's Renault had a run through the gravel, and Jaime Alguersuari caught a half-spin in his Toro Rosso, but otherwise final practice ran smoothly for all.
Despite fears of rain prompting teams to get on with their runs early, the forecast showers largely missed the circuit, with only slight drizzle being reported in some areas of the track. But radar forecasts suggest that much heavier rain is heading for Sepang in time for qualifying.
Pos Driver Car Time Gap Laps
1. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m33.542s 17
2. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m33.559s + 0.017s 14
3. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m33.587s + 0.045s 17
4. Alonso Ferrari 1m33.751s + 0.209s 19
5. Schumacher Mercedes 1m33.992s + 0.450s 15
6. Rosberg Mercedes 1m34.090s + 0.548s 13
7. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m34.113s + 0.581s 16
8. Massa Ferrari 1m34.174s + 0.632s 15
9. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m34.540s + 0.998s 13
10. Kubica Renault 1m34.549s + 1.007s 17
11. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m34.623s + 1.081s 11
12. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m34.673s + 1.131s 19
13. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1m34.882s + 1.340s 13
14. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1m34.957s + 1.415s 16
15. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m35.026s + 1.484s 16
16. Petrov Renault 1m35.076s + 1.534s 17
17. de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1m35.477s + 1.935s 18
18. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m36.404s + 2.862s 19
19. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m37.299s + 3.757s 15
20. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1m37.369s + 3.827s 16
21. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1m38.161s + 4.619s 18
22. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1m38.783s + 5.241s 13
23. Senna Hispania-Cosworth 1m39.868s + 6.326s 19
24. Chandhok Hispania-Cosworth 1m39.895s + 6.353s 16
All timing unofficial