Red Bulls set pace in Japan
Red Bull are the team to beat in Japan as Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber dominated the second practice at Suzuka.
Vettel won this race from pole position last year and is on target to repeat that feat again after following up his fastest time in opening practice with the benchmark time of one minute 31.465 seconds in session two.
Championship leader Webber, who enjoys a 21-point cushion over his team-mate in the drivers’ standings, finished 0.395secs down, with Renault’s Robert Kubica taking third.
The session was a frustrating one for McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, who was forced to sit out all but the final 10 minutes as his team repaired his damaged car.
Hamilton’s Suzuka weekend was just 44 minutes old when he sustained major damage to the front end of his car in a shunt at the Degner Curve in opening practice.
Entering the second part of Degner, Hamilton ran wide on the kerb before taking to the gravel and crunching heavily into the tyre barrier, removing his left-front wheel.
The error was Hamilton’s third in as many races following on from his costly retirements in Italy and Singapore.
His mechanics worked frantically on the rebuild but could only get the car running in time for the last knockings of the second session, and the Briton has it all to do if he hopes to claw back to something approaching the pace of the Red Bulls.
Hamilton’s late cameo brought him eight further laps of running to go with the nine he managed in session one, although his best time of 1.33.481 was over two seconds shy of Vettel.
The Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were much improved from this morning, as was Hamilton’s team-mate Jenson Button, who also suffered a hairy moment at Degner in practice one but emerged unscathed.
Alonso, who has won the past two grands prix to sit second in the drivers’ standings, 11 points down on Webber, posted a time just under nine-tenths slower than Vettel on his way to fourth, while Massa was one-tenth and one place further back.
Button’s sixth place represented an improvement on his first practice time, but with over a second to make up on the Red Bulls, he – and indeed Hamilton and Alonso – may need rely on tomorrow’s forecast heavy rainfall to bridge the significant gap.
Webber, Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel and Button are all separated by just 25 points – one race win – heading into the final four races of the season.
Kubica’s run to third place, 0.735secs down on Vettel, came despite an early spin while negotiating the esses section, while the Pole’s Renault team-mate Vitaly Petrov was an impressive seventh.
Michael Schumacher, a six-time winner at Suzuka, was another victim of the Degner Curve, running wide there but recovering on his way to eighth place, ahead of Force India’s Adrian Sutil and the Williams of Nico Hulkenberg.