HEIKKI KOVALAINEN MP4-24-03 P1 programme 24 laps 1m40.356s (1st) P2 programme 0 laps - The morning's damp but drying track made it difficult to conduct much meaningful work as the circuit conditions were continually moving away from the use...
The morning's damp but drying track made it difficult to conduct much meaningful work as the circuit conditions were continually moving away from the use of wet-weather tyres.
Heikki started his programme on Extreme tyres, completing a single installation lap and a three-lap run (1m49.134s best laptime) before the drying track required a switch to Intermediate tyres for the remainder of the session.
Heikki completed three more runs (four laps/1m43.127s, six laps/1m41.757s and one lap/1m40.356s), always mindful of looking after the delicate Intermediates in the drying conditions. His final run at the very end of the session secured him fastest time of the morning.
Neither Heikki nor his engineers considered it worthwhile to venture out during the afternoon's monsoon conditions.
Heikki said: "This morning the track was in a better condition than it was in the afternoon so we decided not to go out in second practice. We think tomorrow and Sunday will be dry so we didn't want to risk any damage to the car in these tricky conditions.
"We also felt that we wouldn't benefit at all from doing any additional running. In the morning, it was not so bad -- it was drying out quite well so we could also use the Intermediate tyre, which worked well. I like this track, it has some very good corners and the grip level is very high. Obviously, the Japanese make very good Tarmac as this was also the case in Fuji!"
"This track is awesome!" were Lewis's first words to his mechanics as he was wheeled back into the garage after his first run around Suzuka this morning.
Starting on Extremes and completing a single run (1m46.974s best), Lewis found the conditions not wet enough to continue and switched to the Intermediate tyre. He conducted an exploratory run (three laps/1m42.642s) before sitting out much of the session in the hope of driving on a dry line. However, the dampness remained and Lewis ran a final three-lap stint (1m41.443s) to finish the morning session in sixth position.
In the afternoon, Lewis left his running until as late as possible, completing just three flying laps in the very wet conditions. His best time of 1m47.983s was fourth fastest.
"This is the best track I've ever driven," Lewis said afterwards. "It's something very special for me and I had a great time today, even though it was wet. We didn't do much running -- we weren't supposed to be running this afternoon, but I couldn't help it: I just had to go out and have a little bit of fun!
"I've heard it's going to be dry for the race, I'm just looking forward to getting out there in the dry and seeing how fast you can push around here."
Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
"Firstly, it feels fantastic to be back at Suzuka for the first time since 2006. It's such a mighty racetrack and has clearly caught the imaginations of both our drivers. The organisers have done a fantastic job with the facility's refurbishment, creating a world-class venue without losing any of the unique character that this place has.
"And although the poor weather made it difficult to appraise our speed relative to our rivals, we're encouraged by our performance today: Lewis was immediately on the pace during every single one of his runs and Heikki finished P1, comfortably quicker than his nearest rivals.
"Nonetheless, with dry weather forecast for Sunday's race, and mixed conditions still expected tomorrow, we still have a lot of work to complete to fully prepare us for what could be both an unpredictable qualifying session and a tricky and eventful race."
Vice-president, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
"A typical Suzuka day, really. Tomorrow's weather should be better, and on Sunday it should be fine according to the forecast. Having said that, the conditions traditionally change very quickly at this circuit.
"Heikki posted the fastest time of the morning session which nobody could improve in the very wet afternoon practice -- but this of course does not mean a lot in judging the competitive order of the field after the few laps that have been done by everybody today.
"It is remarkable what the racetrack owners have invested here to improve working conditions for the teams at this great circuit, and the new pit building is absolutely state of the art."