Jenson Button topped the third practice session before the Japanese Grand Prix on Saturday morning.
The McLaren ace set a best of 1:31.255, giving the Briton a half-second advantage over teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Button initially headed the pack during his Prime tyre run, only to be bettered by the Mercedes pair (led by Michael Schumacher) as the moved to the soft Pirelli options.
As the rest of the field started running softs, Button reclaimed the top spot – a position he would hold to the chequered flag.
Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel lined up the quickest beyond the McLaren pair. The reigning champion held a two-tenths advantage over both Ferrari’s (Fernando Alonso, 4th; Felipe Massa 6th) and fellow-Red Bull pilot Mark Webber in 5th.
While Vettel and Alonso enjoyed relative quiet sessions, both Webber and Massa suffered mechanical and handling difficulties, leaving shy of their respective team leaders.
Following their brief stint at the top of the times, both Mercedes fell to 7th (Schumacher) and 8th (Nico Rosberg), some 1.4 and 1.6 seconds off the pace respectively.
Although, the gap to the top three teams remains in earnest, Mercedes can be confident in the fact they still hold a lead over the chasing squads, with Renault and Force India very much at the forefront.
Indeed Vitaly Petrov (Renault) and Adrian Sutil (Force India) filled out the top ten, ahead of the charging Toro Rosso duo, led by Sebastien Buemi.
It wasn’t all good at Renault – substitute pilot Bruno Senna crashed his R31 into the barriers exiting Spoon corner prior to the halfway mark, bringing out the red flag for eight minutes. The Brazilian ended the morning in 17th position.
The Sauber’s ended the sixty-minute practice 13th (Kamui Kobayashi) and 14th (Sergio Perez), although it came at a price. The Swiss squad broke the Friday night curfew for the first time this year, as they worked on aerodynamic changes on the C30.
However, they still fared better than Hispania, whose experienced lead, Vitantonio Liuzzi, suffered another dismal day at the hands of the F1-11. After completing precious few laps on Friday, the Italian pulled off the circuit not long into his run, with a hydraulic pressure failure.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap 1. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m31.255s 2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m31.762s + 0.507s 3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m32.122s + 0.867s 4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m32.279s + 1.024s 5. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m32.401s + 1.146s 6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m32.429s + 1.174s 7. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m32.725s + 1.470s 8. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m32.878s + 1.623s 9. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m33.058s + 1.803s 10. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m33.424s + 2.169s 11. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m33.469s + 2.214s 12. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m33.545s + 2.290s 13. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m33.818s + 2.563s 14. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m33.836s + 2.581s 15. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m33.990s + 2.735s 16. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m34.321s + 3.066s 17. Bruno Senna Renault 1m35.389s + 4.134s 18. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m35.651s + 4.396s 19. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m36.327s + 5.072s 20. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m36.912s + 5.657s 21. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m37.938s + 6.683s 22. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m38.011s + 6.756s 23. Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth 1m38.355s + 7.100s 24. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m41.097s + 9.842s