Japanese GP: McLaren and Red Bull lead the way
In a rare hot and sunny day of practice at the Suzuka Circuit, the McLaren vs Red Bull duel from Singapore was continued. In the morning session Button led a McLaren one-two, his time of 1m34.507s two-tenths faster than team-mate Lewis Hamilton, with Mark Webber third for Red Bull. In the afternoon, when the soft tyre came into play it was Webber who set the fastest time with 1m32.493, three-tenths faster than team-mate Sebastian Vettel but with Lewis Hamilton in between.
“It looks very close between ourselves and Red Bull,” said Hamilton after the session, “I feel comfortable with our car – it’s the best that it’s ever been around here – and I think I could have matched Mark’s fastest time with an optimal lap. It’s going to be very close in qualifying tomorrow.”
While Red Bull and McLaren swapped times at the top of the order, high-speed Suzuka demonstrated why it’s a circuit capable of catching out the unwary. FP2 was red-flagged almost as soon as it begun, with Paul di Resta spinning on the entry to Spoon and slamming into the tyre barriers. The Scot was unhurt, but his Force India needed to be lifted clear before the session could resume.
“I made a mistake quite early on and was probably a bit too ambitious,” said Di Resta. “I found myself with my two right side wheels on the grass and lost grip on the loose dirt. It’s a shame it had to happen so early in the session and it creates extra work for the guys tonight. You have to be on the edge to feel what the car is doing and sometimes these things happen, but hopefully it won’t cost us too much for the rest of the weekend.”
Near the end of the session Michael Schumacher had an almost-identical mishap at the same place. “I think I was already concentrating too much on the corner ahead of me and therefore had a wheel on the dirt and went off,” said the seven-times champion.
Schumacher’s was not the only problem on a difficult day for Mercedes. Team-mate Nico Rosberg ground to a halt late in the morning session and missed the early part of the afternoon as mechanics completed an engine change. Rosberg later revealed the engine used in the morning had been reaching the end of its projected life.
The other notable problem of the day was a rear-wing failure for Vitaly Petrov’s Caterham. Though generally regarded as the worst possible structural failure for an F1 car, Petrov shrugged off the incident, which happened just before the FP2 chequered flag: “We’ll have a very close look at what caused that so we can make sure it doesn’t happen again but apart from that I’ve had an OK Friday,” the Russian driver said.