Vettel first and Webber second in Japanese Grand Prix FP2 as Suzuka takes its toll again.
Red Bull Racing reasserted its late-season dominance on Friday afternoon at Suzuka, with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber taking the top two positions on the timesheet in FP2. As had been the case in the morning, the session was punctuated by a number of drivers being caught out by the circuit’s demands.
Marussia had announced Jules Bianchi would take no part in FP2, his chassis being too badly damaged to be repaired in time, so only 21 cars went out for the early runs. Having had a truncated opening session, Pastor Maldonado lost more time in the afternoon. Eleven minutes into FP2 he overshot at the second Degner and went into the barrier. When his Williams was cleared the track was only clear for a short time before McLaren’s Sergio Pérez ran wide on the entrance to Spoon and careered into the wall.
The yellow flags for Pérez heralded a general return to the pitlane, with most drivers shedding the hard tyres and changing to the medium compound for the first time in the day. Times immediately began to fall, though the extra grip did not seem to reduce the hazard. Fernando Alonso spun at Degner but avoided hitting anything solid. Meanwhile, Webber lapped untroubled and rose to P1 with a time of 1:34.020. That benchmark stood only for a minute before Vettel arrived and became the first man under 1m34s, with a lap of 1:33.852.
Behind the Red Bulls other front-runners, also on fresh mediums, were doing their quickest laps of the session. Nico Rosberg was third fastest for Mercedes, ahead of Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean for Lotus respectively. Lewis Hamilton was sixth in the second Mercedes and Daniel Ricciardo was seventh for Toro Rosso. Felipe Massa finished the session eighth for Ferrari, Jenson Button was ninth in the sole surviving McLaren and Fernando Alonso completed the top ten in the other Ferrari.
After that brief burst on the medium tyres, most drivers settled into their heavy-fuel long runs, with times dropping away by five to six seconds compared with the earlier outings. No-one seemed completed settled at Suzuka, with even Vettel and Webber having off-track moments, both drivers slithering over the kerbs and onto the artificial verges several times. Räikkönen was the only driver to get into an unrecoverable situation. Coming out of the Esses, he spun off at the Dunlop Curve and beached his Lotus with a little over 35 minutes of running remaining. The rest of the session was completed without incident.