Mark Webber turned a lap of 1:32.493 on the 3.608-mile Suzuka circuit on Friday’s practice day for this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. The FIA Formula One teams had perfect weather to prepare their cars for qualifying, and the race.
“It was a nice change to get some good weather; it’s been the first dry weekend for a while. It’s a challenging venue in terms of balance here, but the car ran well and we tested both tyres. Suzuka is a great track that’s remained untouched for a long time, it’s a classic,” said Webber.
On the soft Pirelli tires, Webber led McLaren-Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton and his Red Bull-Renault teammate Sebastian Vettel to close out the first day of action. Hamilton had a best lap time of 1:32.707; 0.214 tenth of a second off the pace of Webber. Vettel was 0.343 second behind his teammate with a 1:32.836.
Suzuka is such a phenomenal circuit!
Hamilton smiled brightly when he climbed out of his car after this first runs this morning: “I have the coolest job! Suzuka is such a phenomenal circuit!
The Briton added, “The first lap out of the pits felt great. Just driving through the first couple of corners and feeling the acceleration, it takes a few laps to get warmed up, but you keep getting faster and faster as you push the limits.”
Vettel said, “The car’s performing, but there are still some things we can improve. It was a bit nervous this morning, better this afternoon, but we need to make a step overnight.”
In the morning practice, Jenson Button placed his McLaren-Mercedes on top of the time chart ahead of his teammate Hamilton. Webber was third while the two Mercedes teammates, Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher.
Most of the teams were able to use the final ten minutes this afternoon for the usual long runs on the soft tires.
Force India-Mercedes driver Nico Hulkenberg was fourth followed by points leader Fernando Alonso in his Scuderia Ferrari.
Romain Grosjean was sixth in his Lotus-Renault, and Button ended the day in seventh. Williams-Renault’s Bruno Senna placed eighth followed by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa.
“I didn’t do too many laps in FP2: the balance wasn’t quite right and we knew we couldn’t go back on the changes we’d made until after the session, so there wasn’t any point doing too much running. Still, we know how to dial the car in for FP3 tomorrow, and that’s the important thing. The car felt good this morning, so we’ll go back to something similar with just a few detail changes,” said Button.
Michael Schumacher made it into the top ten but then with just over 15 minutes remaining in the 2nd practice, the German was off at Spoon curve landing him into the gravel. He ended up in the barrier with a broken front wing on his Mercedes. Yesterday, the seven times World Champion announced his second retirement as a driver from Formula One.
“We had two quite eventful sessions today, with a lot of work on the cars and my off in the afternoon. I had to go to the Medical Centre which was a precaution from the FIA but I am 100% okay. I think I was already concentrating too much on the corner ahead of me and therefore had a wheel on the dirt and went off. Overall, we had not been able to collect as much data as we would have wanted, as we had a lot of breaks working on adjustments to the cars, and we will also have to improve the balance,” said Schumacher.
The German was not the only one to go off the racing surface into the gravel and/or barriers. Paul di Resta did the same in his Force India-Mercedes. Word has it that he is still favored by Ferrari if they do decide to not to renew Massa’s contract.
Di Resta admitted, “The morning session was straightforward and the balance was good straight after lunch with the changes we had made to the car. Unfortunately I made a mistake quite early on and was probably a bit too ambitious.”
Kimi Raikkonen spent a great bit of time in the garage this afternoon instead of on the track. The team had to repair the KERS on his Lotus-Renault. Due to the danger of the battery leaking, the crew had to use the proper gear (rubber) for protection. He finally made it out near end to set a time of 1:34.291 in the final session. The Finn was only able to do a short-fuel run.
The final practice will really set the tone of what one can expect in qualifying. Jenson Button has the extra pressure on him to qualify as far up front as possible due to the fact he will lose six grid spots. Paying a penalty from Singapore – the same one that is dreaded by all teams: gearbox change.