SAO PAULO, Brazil, Nov 12 – Nico Rosberg bounced back to top the times narrowly ahead of Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in Saturday’s third and final practice for this weekend’s potentially decisive Brazilian Grand Prix.
The world championship leader clocked a best time of one minute and 11.740 seconds on a damp morning at Interlagos to finish the session just 0.093 seconds ahead of the defending champion Hamilton, who was fastest in both sessions on Friday.
Rosberg, who holds a 19-point lead on the Briton with two races remaining, will win his maiden title if he completes a hat-trick of successive wins at the Brazilian event in Sunday’s race.
Hamilton has never won in Brazil — one of only two venues on the current calendar where he has not done so — but he also is seeking a hat-trick of three consecutive wins following triumphs in the United States and Mexico last month.
The weather conditions in Sao Paulo were significantly different on Saturday to the heatwave on Friday.
The cooler air, coupled with intermittent drizzle, created a very different set of challenges and little or no consistency with the lap times as the drivers and teams went through their final preparations ahead of qualifying later Saturday.
After struggling on Friday, Ferrari battled through the night to find improvements and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel was third-fastest, ahead of his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Dutch teenager Max Verstappen was fifth ahead of Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, Finn Valtteri Bottas of Williams and Jolyon Palmer for Renault.
Local hero Felipe Massa was ninth in the second Williams ahead of two-time world champion Fernando Alonso of McLaren, the Spaniard returning to action after a problematic Friday that saw him suffer a car failure.
Separately, in a rare move, Mercedes had their pit “box” area — their spot in the pit lane — moved five metres (16 feet) down the pit lane because of a bump in the road that was upsetting Rosberg and Hamilton as they came in for pit stops.
The move came after race director Charlie Whiting was lobbied by Mercedes on Friday.
It meant also that Ferrari, Williams, Red Bull and Force India also had to move down the pit lane by four, three, two and one metre respectively.