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Final practice - Vettel still riding high for Red Bull in Austin 17 Nov 2012

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB8.
Formula One World Championship, Rd19 United States Grand Prix, Practice, Austin, Texas, 16 November 2012 Pit-stop practice at Force India Sergio Perez hits Charles Pic during Practice Three Jean-Eric Vergne pulls off the track having suffered a front-suspension problem

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel set the fastest lap yet again in the final practice at the Circuit of The Americas on Saturday morning, but this time the gap to his closest opposition was only 0.258s behind - and that came in the form of Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren.

Through most of the session Jenson Button had been the pacesetter in the other MP4-27, but right at the end Vettel got the hammer down to lap in 1m 36.490s at a time when the ante was 1m 37.492s to Hamilton who had not long displaced his team mate. With a deficit of 1.002s, it looked like another nightmare for Red Bull’s opposition.

Then Pastor Maldonado leapt from nowhere to second with 1m 37.001s for Williams, before Hamilton got a good run on his final lap to stop the clock in 1m 36.748s. Behind the Williams driver, Fernando Alonso had a hair-raising run in his Ferrari for 1m 37.180s, with Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg also improving late in the day to 1m 37.247s ahead of Felipe Massa on 1m 37.262s in the other Ferrari, Red Bull’s Mark Webber on 1m 37.298s, Sauber’s Sergio Perez on 1m 37.415s, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg on 1m 37.495s and Button, who didn’t run when everyone else went quicker, left in 10th on the strength of his earlier lap of 1m 37.538s.

Bruno Senna was right with the 2009 champion with 1m 37.569s in the other Williams, then came Michael Schumacher on 1m 37.760s for Mercedes, Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen on 1m 37.765s and Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi on 1m 37.953s.

Perez might get another penalty to add to Friday’s pair of reprimands after running into Marussia’s Charles Pic and spinning him when the Frenchman was minding his own business on his first quick lap and the Mexican went for a gap that wasn’t there by the time he reached it.

Daniel Ricciardo took 15th for Toro Rosso with 1m 38.547s, ahead of Force India’s Paul di Resta on 1m 38.653s and Lotus’s Romain Grosjean on 1m 38.753s, while Jean-Eric Vergne was 18th on 1m 39.689s after stopping out on the track with a broken suspension on his Toro Rosso.

The Caterham/Marussia battle intensified with Timo Glock 19th on 1m 40.407s for the latter, just ahead of the former’s Vitaly Petrov on 1m 40.753s. Heikki Kovalainen was 21st on 1m 41.011s in the other Caterham, and Pic 22nd on 1m 41.466s. At the back, Pedro de la Rosa kept ahead of HRT partner Narain Karthikeyan, 1m 43.563s to 1m 44.043s.

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