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Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel grabbed a psychological boost ahead of Malaysian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday when he topped the timings in final free practice.
The Red Bull star, 25, has led complaints about Formula One's new, fast-disintegrating tyres but he left his rivals trailing with an unbettered time of 1min 36.435sec late in the session.
Lewis Hamilton, embarking on his second race for Mercedes after his switch from McLaren, led for much of the one-hour practice until Vettel's flier, but he ended it with rubber flapping from his tyres after a long run on mediums.
The British driver was second quickest, 0.13sec behind Vettel, with Force India's Adrian Sutil third followed by Red Bull's Mark Webber and Lotus pilot Kimi Raikkonen, who won last week's season-opener in Melbourne.
Paul di Resta, Jenson Button, Felipe Massa, Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10, with McLaren's new recruit Sergio Perez 12th.
Webber and Pastor Maldonado also appeared to encounter problems with tyre grip, in what looks set to be a major issue in Sunday's race around the fiercely hot Sepang circuit.