Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa both completed well over a Japanese Grand Prix race distance in the three hours of free practice at the spectacular Suzuka circuit today. Even if the season is reaching the end of the road, every moment of track time is still invaluable to Scuderia Ferrari, as it chases its twin objectives of ending the year more stylishly than it began it and cramming in as much work as possible in the light of starting all over again in 2012.
The Spaniard ended the day in an encouraging second place on the time sheet, behind the McLaren of Jenson Button, who was the only man to break the 1m 32s barrier. The Scuderia’s Brazilian driver was fifth fastest this afternoon, separated from his team-mate by just under four tenths of a second and the two Red Bulls of third placed Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber in fourth. Felipe’s former team-mate and multiple Suzuka winner Michael Schumacher completed the top six for Mercedes.
In past years, by the time the teams reached Suzuka, the scene was set and, to quote Julius Caesar as he crossed the Rubicon, the die is cast. However, this year the one predictable element of each race has been its unpredictability and yet again that might well prove to be the case this weekend. One can expect the unexpected and as usual, the relative performance of the Pirelli Soft and Medium tyres and how the teams manage their use on Sunday would seem to be the key.
But we are getting ahead of the game, because before the race comes one more hour of free practice tomorrow morning, followed by qualifying: if the tyres, combined with DRS and KERS make overtaking a bit more likely on this track where getting ahead of a rival has always been very difficult, Suzuka is still the sort of circuit where having a clear view of the run down to the first right hander is more than useful.
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