Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen drove faultlessly on Friday free practice.
F1’s annual visit to Suzuka is thrilling and daunting in equal measure. Today’s practice sessions saw a number of incidents, but both Jenson and Kevin drove faultlessly, conducting a series of aerodynamic tests throughout FP1 before switching focus to set-up and tyre-wear evaluations in this afternoon’s FP2 session.
Despite this weekend’s predicted arrival of Typhoon Phanfone, which the latest forecasts suggest will sweep southwards of the circuit on Sunday and Monday, both sessions were run in warm and dry conditions.
Jenson Button (FP1: 1m37.649s, 24 laps, 8th / FP2: 1m36.409s, 28 laps, 4th): “We traditionally lack pace to our rivals on a Friday, so it’s nice to see the performance we have. Naturally, there are still a few more things to work on, but the car was generally working better this afternoon than this morning.
“That first session wasn’t too bad, but we were able to make some really productive changes to the car as the circuit gripped up and the temperatures rose in the afternoon. The majority of those changes will also help our long-run pace, which is another positive.
“There’s quite a lot of degradation – there’s quite a lot of high-speed change of direction, which is typical of Suzuka, and it’s very tough on the tyres. We sort of expected that – it’s always a tough race.
“We’re certainly getting there, which is good to see. I hope the weather stays dry – I just want to race.”
Kevin Magnussen (FP1: 1m37.327s, 24 laps, 6th / FP2: 1m36.714s, 31 laps, 8th): “Suzuka is a proper racetrack: it’s high-speed and the limit is hard to find. And, when you go over that limit, it can be very easy to go off. This is a really cool place, and I’ve really enjoyed driving here for the first time today.
“Today’s sessions have been quite encouraging, too. As things look right now, I think Q3 should be achievable for us tomorrow. We still have to do some work to improve how the car operates on the Prime, but things are a bit better on the Option, which didn’t feel too bad.
“We’ve improved the car through the day – this is a fantastic place to drive, the car is certainly contributing to that feeling, and it handles this place pretty well.”
Eric Boullier - Racing director, McLaren Mercedes: “The mighty Suzuka always delivers such a stern challenge, and we saw a number of red- and yellow-flag incidents throughout this first day of practice. Both Jenson and Kevin impressed today. This place is never easy for a rookie, yet Kevin drove extremely well, regardless of whether he was running high or low fuel loads, or using the Prime or Option compounds.
“As we all know, Jenson loves this place, and proved typically fast today. While it would be perhaps optimistic to believe that his fourth position in FP2 will be translated into the same level of qualifying pace tomorrow, it’s nonetheless pleasing to see the car working well.
“Our programme this morning was largely devoted to undertaking aerodynamic tests, which included the fitting of a measuring rake to Kevin’s car. For the afternoon, we were able to evaluate the Option tyre as well as refining the car’s balance, improvements that both drivers found to their liking.
“We’re still working extremely hard to bring further developments to the MP4-29, and there’s a significant amount of focus and resource ongoing at the McLaren Technology Centre to ensure we keep pushing to make progress right through to the end of the year.”