Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
Jenson Button was again the fastest man during the second practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka this afternoon. The Briton set a fastest time of 1m31.901s after completing 32 laps, Fernando Alonso was second quickest for Ferrari and crossed the finish line 0.174s behind the McLaren. No mistakes from Sebastian Vettel this time, as he took third place just 0,020s slower than Alonso. Mark Webber took the second Red Bull to fourth place with a time of 1.32.147s.
The weather at Suzuka was again ideal with a track temperature of a little over 37C. Again teams didn’t waste much time and sent their drivers out early to begin the battle for the first place. Lotus Renault’s Vitaly Petrov was the first to set a benchmark with a lap of 1m35.471s on the medium compound tyres. Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi soon joined him and scored the second fastest time, but Petrov again improved his own time and stayed on top of the time sheets.
But not for long as Button grabbed first place at the time with a lap of 1m34.562s, while his team colleague Lewis Hamilton took second place. Not a good afternoon for Vitantonio Liuzzi as he had to park his HRT just ahead of the 130R Curve and had to abandon the second session after completing just four laps, the Italian will have some catching up to do during Saturday’s third practice, as Narain Karthikeyan drove Liuzzi’s car in the morning session and the Italian now has only had four laps to prepare himself for Saturday’s qualifying.
Meanwhile Sebastian Vettel and both Ferraris of Alonso and Felipe Massa had joined the rest and Alonso squeezed out the fasted lap at the time. Michael Schumacher moved to fourth in his Mercedes after a six-lap run but soon lost his fourth place to Massa.
During the following 30 minutes Vettel, Alonso, Webber and Massa were fighting for the top positions but it was Webber who led the pack after the Australian had completed his first run. Lotus Renault’s Bruno Senna was the first go fly of the track at Turn 1 but after a push from the marshals the Brazilian was able to continue.
After a good half hour it was time for the second run on the medium tyres but Alonso remained in first position and was followed by Webber, while Jaime Alguersuari impressed again and took third place at the time. The Spaniard had to abandon his second fast lap as he almost flew off in the Spoon Curve. Massa was the first driver to venture out on the circuit on the soft tyres and immediately put in the fastest lap with a time of 1m32.448s.
That was the signal for others to also check out the soft Pirelli compound, not surprisingly Alguersuari, Petrov and Senna then improved their time dramatically. Also dramatically was the shunt of Rubens Barrichello, he lost control of his Williams at the Degner 1 Curve and ended up backwards into the tyre barrier. The Brazilian was unhurt but his practice was over and he could do nothing else than to watch the marshals removing his damaged car. Barrichello finished the day in 18th position, surprisingly enough still ahead of team colleague Pastor Maldonado as the Venezuelan one hour into the session had to park his Williams at the same corner and was classified as 21st, again not a good day for Williams.
Next to take the top spot was Alonso who lapped the circuit in 1m32.075s on his soft tyres, not much later Webber took second place also on the soft tyres. Kamui Kobayashi again had a few scary moments when he went off at the Spoon Curve but he continue his run.
With thirty minutes to go Button put the fastest time on the clock and his time proved to be unbeatable this afternoon. Vettel was the next man to set a good time on the soft tyres but he had to abandon his lap as yellow flags were waved at the Degner 1 Curve were marshals were still busy retrieving Maldonado’s Williams. With 25 minutes to go Vettel improved his time with a lap of 1m32.095s and took third place behind Alonso who had by then landed second position.
Massa took the second Ferrari to fifth place, but surprise of the afternoon were both Mercedes drivers, Schumacher took sixth place with a time of 1m32.710s, while Nico Rosberg was in seventh place and the first with more than one second behind Button.
Not a good session for Hamilton as he took eighth place behind Rosberg and was 1.344s slower than his team colleague Button. Petrov and Buemi completed the top ten for Lotus Renault and Toro Rosso. Alguersuari took the second Toro Rosso home in 11th position, Adrian Sutil was 12th for Force India while Paul di Resta took 15th place this afternoon.
Sergio Perez was this time the fastest Sauber driver as he took 13th place with a time of 1m34.393s, and Kobayashi took 16th place. Heikki Kovalainen was back in the seat this afternoon and was the fastest of the newest teams and the Finn positioned his Team Lotus car in 17th place. Both Marussia Virgin drivers Timo Glock and Jerome d’Ambrosio were 19th and 20th respectively, Daniel Ricciardo was 22nd for HRT and despite Jarno Trulli’s best efforts the Italian ended up on 23rd place just ahead of Liuzzi.
At the end of the session a few drivers tried a few laps with fully loaded fuel tanks to get an idea of their race pace, but it is clear McLaren is fast at Suzuka and their race pace also looks promising. On Saturday morning during the third practice session drivers will have another 90 minutes to prepare themselves for the all-important qualifying session, follow all the action on Motorsport.com.