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Japanese GP: McLaren and Red Bull dominate Friday practice at Suzuka


By Berthold Bouman

During the first free practice session for round 15 of the FIA Formula One World Championship, the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, Jenson Button was fastest for McLaren with a time of 1m34.507s. Second was his team colleague Lewis Hamilton who was 0.233 seconds slower than leader Button, while Mark Webber was third for Red Bull.

Button fastest in first practice

Both Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher took fourth and fifth place respectively for Mercedes this morning on a dry and sunny Suzuka circuit. The first 11 places were all within one second of leader Button, Fernando Alonso was 11th for Ferrari, 0.977 seconds off the pace, while Felipe Massa was seventh.

In the morning there were the occasional off-track outings, most notably by Schumacher, who will retire at the end of the season, who went off at the Degner Curve, and went off again during the second session and ran wide at the Spoon Curve and hit the barrier hard, his car had to be towed away, the German was unharmed and later admitted a driver error had caused his crash.

Not so impressive were both Lotus drivers, Kimi Raikkonen was 13th and Romain Grosjean 14th during the morning session, although Grosjean improved during the second session and scored the sixth fastest time.

Valtteri Bottas took over the wheel from Bruno Senna’s Williams in the morning but scored a disappointing 18th time, while Dutchman Giedo van der Garde borrowed the Caterham of Heikki Kovalainen and was 23rd, almost five seconds slower than Button.

Sebastian Vettel was 17th this morning and didn’t seem to be all that worried about his performance, as he indeed improved his time and scored third place in the afternoon. His team mate Webber was the fastest driver in the afternoon with a lap of 1m32.493s, almost two seconds faster than Button’s time in the morning, which was set on the harder tyre compound, while Webber, like most drivers, set his time during the second session on the softs.

Hamilton was again second in the afternoon, but was 0.214 seconds slower than Webber, while Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India took fourth place behind Vettel, but Paul di Resta in the second Force India caused a red flag just five minutes into the afternoon session as he crashed at the Spoon Curve, damaged his car and was forced to abandon the second practice session without setting a timed lap.

Raikkonen experienced KERS problems and spent most of the time in the afternoon in the Lotus garage after he literally had to jump out of his car to make sure he wouldn’t get zapped by his unwilling KERS system, according to his team the battery had overheated.

Also technical problems for Rosberg, as his mechanics had to change the Mercedes engine after his car had stopped at the end of the first session, but he was nevertheless 11th during the second session, just behind Schumacher who was tenth.

Webber was fastest in the second session

Mixed fortunes for the Williams drivers, Pastor Maldonado was tenth in the morning, while Senna was the fastest Williams driver in the afternoon with a lap of 1m33.499s, good for eighth place.

Toro Rosso drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne were very consistent as they took 15th and 16th place in the morning and 16th and 17th place in the afternoon. Also bad luck for Vitaly Petrov in the Caterham, he had a rear wing failure on the start-finish straight and ended up in the gravel trap at Turn 1, just before the chequered flag was waved to signal the end of the second session.

And last but not least, Lotus tested their new double DRS but will later decide whether they will use it during qualifying and the race as well.

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