TOP FORM: Image: Meceredes' Lewis Hamilton may have won his third title but he's still gunning for another win. Image: AFP / Miguel Shincariol
Sao Paulo, Brazil -Newly-crowned three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton topped the times ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in Saturday morning's third and final free practice session for Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix.
The 30-year-old Briton recovered after suffering from sensor issues that left him briefly stranded without any gears and then a big spin to outpace his rival by slightly more than one-tenth of a second as he seeks his first win at Interlagos at the ninth attempt.
Rosberg was second ahead of fellow-German four-time champion Sebastian Vettel by 0.7 seconds as the two Ferraris wound up third and fourth, Kimi Raikkonen completing the leading quartet on a day of rising temperatures in Sao Paulo.
Hamilton was fastest in Friday's opening session, but was overhauled by Rosberg in the second session in the afternoon as the two Mercedes men continued to reveal the depth of their rivalry despite the team having secured already the constructors' championship to add to Hamilton's third drivers' crown.
Valtteri Bottas was fifth for Williams ahead of Nico Hulkenberg of Force India, Romain Grosjean of Lotus and Sergio Perez, in the second Force India.
Pastor Maldonado was ninth in the second Lotus and teenager Max Verstappen 10th for Toro Rosso, a creditable effort as it lifted him clear of both sister team Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo (11th) and Daniil Kvyat (13th).
Local hero Brazilian Felipe Massa was 12th in the second Williams on a day when the McLaren-Honda team continued to struggle, two-times champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso taking 14th place and 2009 champion Briton Jenson Button 18th.
On a notably warmer day than Friday, with a track temperature of 46 degrees Celsius, Hamilton again attracted much attention as he sought to find the speed and consistency that had brought him his third drivers' world title, clinched at the 2015 US GP in Texas in October.
He complained of car problems that left him briefly at a standstill, and also spun off with a major loss of the rear end of his machine at Turn 11, as he traded fastest lap times with Rosberg.
Hamilton, who had arrived in Brazil 24 hours later than scheduled after what he described as "a difficult week" told the Mercedes team: "I don't know what happened there, but the rear just gave up."
He was summarising a period during which he raced in Mexico, stayed for four days to do promotional work, flew to London to organise his mother's surprise 60th birthday party on Saturday and was then involved in a road crash, with three vehicles, in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
After this, he went down with a fever that laid him low and delayed his travel to one of the few events he has not won and where he hopes to 'salute' his boyhood hero Ayrton Senna by claiming victory.
He hopes also to secure his long-awaited 50th pole position in the session scheduled to take place later on Saturday, thus ending Rosberg's run of four poles in succession.
2015 Brazilian GP third practice results
1. Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes 1min12.070
2. Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes 1min12.193
3. Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari 1min12.760
4. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari 1min13.096
5. Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Williams 1min13.335
6. Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Force India 1min13.345
7. Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus 1min13.437
8. Sergio Perez (MEX) Force India 1min13.506
9. Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Lotus 1min13.534
10. Max Verstappen (NED) Toro Rosso 1min13.548
11. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Red Bull 1min13.572
12. Felipe Massa (BRA) Williams 1min13.742
13. Daniil Kvyat (RUS) Red Bull 1min13.829
14. Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren 1min13.850
15. Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Toro Rosso 1min13.959
16. Marcus Ericsson (SWE) Sauber AG 1min14.185
17. Felipe Nasr (BRA) Sauber AG 1min14.288
18. Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren 1min14.445
19. Will Stevens (GBR) Marussia 1min16.671
20. Alexander Rossi (USA) Marussia 1min17.059