McLaren’s Jenson Button topped the opening pair of free practice sessions on Friday morning.
On a day peppered with minor offs, the 2009 World Champion kept his MP4-26 on the road to be quickest in practice one ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton and later Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) in practice two.
Button’s fastest morning run of 1:33.634 was enough to head off Hamilton by nine-hundredths of a second.
As the battle for runner-up in the championship heats up, McLaren brought some rear wing upgrades in effort to stay ahead of the Ferrari machine.
Sebastian Vettel represented Red Bull’s better efforts in the morning in 3rd, albeit nearly half-a-second shy of Button; however the reigning champion’s practice was ruined at the death following an off in the Degner Curves.
Alonso was a further three-tenths slower than Vettel in 4th, with the second Red Bull of Mark Webber falling a few hundredths short of the Ferrari pilot in 5th.
Both Toro Rosso’s made it into the top eight with Jaime Alguersuari (6th) outpacing teammate Sebastien Buemi (8th) by six-tenths. Splitting the Red Bull junior squad was Felipe Massa (Ferrari), with a time 1.95 seconds off of Button’s pace as he tested a new front wing package for the Scuderia.
As technical directors Geoff Willis and Aldo Costa begin their tenures in the Mercedes squad, veteran Michael Schumacher brought the turquoise and silver team 9th place – half-a-second quicker than the Renault duo, Vitaly Petrov (10th) and Bruno Senna (11th).
Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg was unable to match the seven-time world champion. His best of 1:38.197 left the former-Williams man down in 16th, with the current Williams pair – Rubens Barrichello (17th) and Pastor Maldonado (18th) – just shading Rosberg.
For Maldonado, it was another tough session, with the Venezuelan missing much of the session due to a spike in the electronics following an off.
Sergio Perez suffered KERS functionality problems, leaving him 15th; two places and one-tenth shy of home hero Kamui Kobayashi. At the back, Virgin’s Timo Glock (21st) ran only thirteen laps, with the German missing much of the session due to a gearbox oil leak.
Three reserves garnered laps at Suzuka. At Force India, Nico Hulkenberg sat in for Adrian Sutil, notching 12th place from twenty-one-lap session, while Karun Chandhok (20th, Lotus) managed twenty-two tours, compared to the twenty-five that Narain Karthikeyan ran with HRT.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps 1. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m33.634s 20 2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m33.725s + 0.091 18 3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m34.090s + 0.456 22 4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m34.372s + 0.738 24 5. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m34.426s + 0.792 25 6. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m34.937s + 1.303 23 7. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m35.585s + 1.951 27 8. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m35.590s + 1.956 25 9. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m36.033s + 2.399 22 10. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m36.370s + 2.736 18 11. Bruno Senna Renault 1m36.487s + 2.853 18 12. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m36.700s + 3.066 21 13. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m36.948s + 3.314 24 14. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m36.949s + 3.315 22 15. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m37.103s + 3.469 29 16. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m38.197s + 4.563 18 17. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m38.331s + 4.697 11 18. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m38.446s + 4.812 8 19. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m39.168s + 5.534 10 20. Karun Chandhok Lotus-Renault 1m39.946s + 6.312 22 21. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m40.872s + 7.238 13 22. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m41.019s + 7.385 24 23. Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth 1m41.106s + 7.472 25 24. Narian Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m41.775s + 8.141 25
Button made it two-for-two in afternoon with yet another fastest lap, to leave him nearly two-tenths ahead of Alonso.
However, it was clear in the late stages of the second session that the Red Bull pairing were leading the way in terms of long run pace.
Indeed, both McLaren pilots swapped the top spot with Alonso over the course of the first hour, but as teams began to think more about race runs, McLaren’s real threat emerged.
Despite not running the absolute quickest on the soft Pirelli’s, Red Bull showed their hand in the latter thirty minutes of the session with high fuel laps consistently one second quicker than the McLaren / Ferrari quartet.
Of the shorter runs, Vettel secured 3rd, with Webber 4th and some distance ahead of Massa in the second Ferrari.
Schumacher (6th) found his Mercedes plagued with handling issues, although it would not stop the veteran from topping his teammate Rosberg (7th) once again. Hamilton, meanwhile, could only manage 8th come the flag.
Several offs and mechanical failures plagued the afternoon session. Vitantonio Liuzzi (HRT), Maldonado and Jarno Trulli all stopped on track with various problems, while Senna, Kobayashi and Barrichello created their own issues.
Approaching turn one, Senna lost his Renault on entry, but managed to luckily keep his engine running, allowing the Brazilian to escape. Kobayashi endured a much scarier moment, as his Sauber stepped out violently in 130R.
Neither, however, did the damage that Barrichello inflicted upon his FW33. The veteran lost control of his Williams machine entering Degner One, planting his car hard into the barriers, following a brief slide across the fake grass.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps 1. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m31.901s 32 2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m32.075s + 0.174 33 3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m32.095s + 0.194 35 4. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m32.147s + 0.246 28 5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m32.448s + 0.547 34 6. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m32.710s + 0.809 26 7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m32.982s + 1.081 27 8. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m33.245s + 1.344 26 9. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m33.446s + 1.545 36 10. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m33.681s + 1.780 33 11. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m33.705s + 1.804 25 12. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m33.790s + 1.889 36 13. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m34.393s + 2.492 35 14. Bruno Senna Renault 1m34.557s + 2.656 27 15. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m34.601s + 2.700 33 16. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m36.038s + 4.137 33 17. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m36.225s + 4.324 35 18. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m37.123s + 5.222 14 19. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m37.440s + 5.539 30 20. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m38.093s + 6.192 30 21. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m38.387s + 6.486 16 22. Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth 1m38.763s + 6.862 36 23. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m39.800s + 7.899 24 24. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m42.480s + 10.579 4