Free Practice 1
Both McLaren and Red Bull arrived at the Suzuka International Racing Course with multiple upgrades for the challengers. With the title run-in now reaching boiling point, McLaren brought new front and rear wings, an upgraded floor and an improved f-duct, whereas Red Bull showed up with evolutions of the front and rear wings.
Sadly for McLaren, the upgrades took a beating. Championship challenger Lewis Hamilton spun into the barriers at Degner corner, destroying the left side of his McLaren and damaging the new wings. McLaren team mate Jenson Button had a similar off just prior to the end of the session as he bounced heavily over the kerbs; however the reigning Champion, cushioned by the gravel trap, avoided an accident. While running, Hamilton secured 5th place on the timing sheets, with Button down in 12th.
The Red Bull pair of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were once again at the top of the order with a large gap to the pack behind, headed by Robert Kubica (Renault). Vettel finished the session with a 0.048 of-a-second advantage over Webber, although both had half-a-second over the leading Renault.
Kamui Kobayashi also spun on the approach to Degner corner; however the Japanese driver saved his Sauber before any damage could be inflicted. He recorded the 14th best time. Jaime Alguersuari returned to the circuit where he had a mammoth crash at the 130R corner in 2009; the Spaniard celebrated this by going off at the much slower hairpin corner – the Toro Rosso was the slowest of the ‘regular teams’ down in 18th.
Jerome d’Ambrosio stood in for Lucas di Grassi at Virgin Racing for 1st practice and recorded a time only four-tenths of-a-second slower than team leader, Timo Glock – a very good effort by the Belgian.
Free Practice 2
Red Bull were again the fastest in second practice, but this time Sebastian Vettel was some four-tenths of-a-second ahead of team mate Mark Webber. For the second session in a row, the Renault of Robert Kubica registered the 3rd fastest time of the afternoon, but only after a spin in the middle of the ‘esses’. Kubica’s Renault team mate, Vitaly Petrov, improved greatly in the second session – the gap between the pair closed from 1.2 seconds, down to 0.5, although the Pole still has the advantage.
Sebastien Buemi also had a spin in ‘esses’, but it did not stop the Swiss driver from putting in the 16th best time, as he bettered his Toro Rosso team mate, Jaime Alguersuari by 0.05 of-a-second. Michael Schumacher was another to have an off-circuit excursion, as he attempted replicate Jenson Button’s 1st Practice spin; however the seven-time World Champion still managed to clock the 8th fastest lap in the works Mercedes machine. It will be interesting to see if he can take this momentum to qualifying and the race.
Following his crash in the morning run, Lewis Hamilton missed much of the session, only getting on track with eight minutes remaining, managing the 13th best time. The 2008 World Champion switched to the old rear wing; the McLaren upgrade was simply too damaged to be repaired.
Vitantonio Liuzzi had a difficult practice session – a poorly mapped engine control left the Italian unable to garner a good time. Both Williams’ driver were also sidelined for part of the session – Rubens Barrichello lost running with an engine problem, while Nico Hulkenberg suffered with an electrical fault.
Japan, 2nd Free Practice (October 8th)
1 VETTEL Red Bull 1m31.465s
2 WEBBER Red Bull 1m31.860s
3 KUBICA Renault 1m32.200s
4 ALONSO Ferrari 1m32.362s
5 MASSA Ferrari 1m32.519s
6 BUTTON McLaren 1m32.533s
7 PETROV Renault 1m32.703s
8 SCHUMACHER Mercedes 1m32.831s
9 SUTIL Force India 1m32.842s
10 HULKENBERG Williams 1m32.851s
11 ROSBERG Mercedes 1m32.880s
12 KOBAYASHI Sauber 1m33.471s
13 HAMILTON McLaren 1m33.481s
14 BARRICHELLO Williams 1m33.564s
15 HEIDFELD Sauber 1m33.697s
16 BUEMI Toro Rosso 1m34.005s
17 ALGUERSUARI Toro Rosso 1m34.055s
18 LIUZZI Force India 1m34.310s
19 KOVALAINEN Lotus 1m36.095s
20 TRULLI Lotus 1m36.333s
21 DI GRASSI Virgin 1m36.630s
22 GLOCK Virgin 1m36.834s
23 SENNA HRT 1m37.352s
24 YAMAMOTO HRT 1m37.831s
Japan, 1st Free Practice (October 8th)
1 VETTEL Red Bull 1m32.585s
2 WEBBER Red Bull 1m32.633s
3 KUBICA Renault 1m33.129s
4 SUTIL Force India 1m33.639s
5 HAMILTON McLaren 1m33.643s
6 BARRICHELLO Williams 1m33.677s
7 HULKENBERG Williams 1m33.707s
8 SCHUMACHER Mercedes 1m33.739s
9 HEIDFELD Sauber 1m33.791s
10 ROSBERG Mercedes 1m33.831s
11 MASSA Ferrari 1m33.929s
12 BUTTON McLaren 1m34.042s
13 ALONSO Ferrari 1m34.169s
14 KOBAYASHI Sauber 1m34.271s
15 PETROV Renault 1m34.373s
16 LIUZZI Force India 1m34.379s
17 BUEMI Toro Rosso 1m34.991s
18 ALGUERSUARI Toro Rosso 1m35.684s
19 KOVALAINEN Lotus 1m36.949s
20 GLOCK Virgin 1m37.329s
21 TRULLI Lotus 1m37.388s
22 D’AMBROSIO Virgin 1m37.778s
23 SENNA HRT 1m38.814s
24 YAMAMOTO HRT 1m39.443s