Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton dominated the first practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit today. Button set the quickest time with a lap of 1m33.634, while Hamilton was a fraction slower and was just 0.091s behind him in the second McLaren. Not a good start of the weekend for champion to be Sebastian Vettel, as he during the final minutes crashed his Red Bull into the barriers of the Degner Curve, still a popular place to do some rally crossing. The German ran wide in Degner 1 and ended up gently touching the barrier, and only slightly damaged his front wing.
Just a few minutes into the session the first few drivers ventured out onto the track for an installation lap and to check out the track conditions. Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso were also out early, as they will be testing new parts for the 2012 car.
Most teams stayed in after their first few laps to check the data and some 20 minutes into the session it was HRT’s Narain Karthikeyan who set the first timed lap at Suzuka with a time of 1m46.073s. The Indian took the wheel over from Vitantonio Liuzzi to accumulate some track time before he will replace Daniel Ricciardo during the Indian Grand Prix.
Ricciardo soon joined the Indian and both diced for the fastest time, but it was Kamui Kobayashi who set the benchmark with a lap of 1m37.760s 30 minutes into the session. After Mark Webber had already improved Kobayashi’s time Ferrari’s Alonso was next to post the fastest time with 1m35.181s. After the Spaniard Hamilton, Button and Vettel joined the battle for the fastest time at the Suzuka track.
Williams diver Pastor Maldonado was the first who had to park his car at the Dunlop Curve after he had made a mistake in the last of the Esses and after completing only eight laps had to abandon his car which meant he would finish the morning in 18th place overall. His team colleague Rubens Barrichello was 0.115s faster than the Venezuelan and ended up on 17th spot this morning
After 45 minutes Button was first, Hamilton second and was followed by Alonso, Webber and Vettel while Jaime Alguersuari was sixth for Toro Rosso. Both Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg were also out early and after two quick runs Schumacher was the fastest of the Mercedes pair and he would end the morning practice in ninth place, while Rosberg had problems to find the right pace and finished the morning practice in 16th position.
Vettel not much later proved it was possible to go flat out through the 130R Curve with the DRS system deployed and more would soon follow. With 20 minutes to go it was time for the second run, all teams used the Prime (medium) compound this morning and it is expected lap times will go down during the afternoon session when the Option (soft) tyres come into play.
As usual towards the end of the session the big guns began a scrap for the quickest time, Hamilton was fastest but not much later his team mate Button posted his fastest time which would not be improved this morning and thus the Briton ended up on first place. Hamilton tried to improve his time but despite his efforts had to be satisfied with second place. Despite his last-minute crash Vettel took third position, while Webber took the second Red Bull home in fifth place with a lap time of 1m34.426s, 0.792s slower than Button and 0.336s slower than Vettel.
Alonso was the quickest of the Ferrari drivers and wedged himself between both Red Bulls to take fourth place. Felipe Massa was seventh and was sandwiched between the Toro Rosso pair who did a great job as Alguersuari took sixth, and Sebastien Buemi took eighth place.
With Schumacher in ninth, Vitaly Petrov completed the top ten with a time of 1m36.370s, some 2.736s off the pace. Bruno Senna was 11th and Friday morning driver German Nico Hulkenberg took his Force India to 12th spot. His team colleague Paul di Resta was 14th after completing 22 laps this morning.
Kobayashi was the fastest of the Sauber drivers and took 13th place with a lap of 1m36.948s, while Mexican Sergio Perez was 15th behind di Resta. Fastest of the newest teams was Jarno Trulli who took 19th place for Team Lotus, Karun Chandhok who took over Heikki Kovalainen’s car finished 20th but was almost one second slower than the Italian.
Timo Glock took his Marussia Virgin to 21st spot, while Jerome d’Ambrosio was 22nd in the second Marussia Virgin. Australian Ricciardo was 23rd for HRT and beat his team mate Karthikeyan who was 24th and last and 0.669s slower than his team colleague.