• Japanese Grand Prix - FP1

Button sets FP1 pace as Vettel crashes out

ESPNF1 Staff
October 7, 2011
Jenson Button set the fastest time with a 1:33.634 © Getty Images

Jenson Button clocked the fastest time during first practice for the Japanese Grand Prix as champion-elect Sebastian Vettel crashed into the barriers on his final lap.

The McLarens appear to be in good shape with Lewis Hamilton second fastest, 0.091s slower than Button, and Vettel's Red Bull 0.456s off the pace in third. Fernando Alonso was fourth fastest ahead of Mark Webber in the second Red Bull, with just 0.8s separating the top five.

Overall it was a relatively quiet session as the drivers eased their way into the weekend with minimal risk taking around the unforgiving 3.4-mile circuit. But on his final run, Vettel pushed the boundaries just a tad too far and his 22-lap old medium tyres ran out of grip heading into the first Degner, spewing him out into the gravel and putting him on a collision course with the barrier. However, the impact itself was fairly gentle and the car will need nothing more than a new front wing and a quick clean to ready it for the afternoon session.

But Vettel's pace should not be underestimated and he impressed onlookers as he performed the RB7's party piece by leaving his DRS wide open through the 190mph 130R. The sheer quantity of downforce generated by the floor of the car enabled him to do so and the McLarens, which are running a substantially larger rear wing this weekend, could not match it.

Nevertheless it was Button who was fastest overall, and by setting his fastest time on 20 lap-old tyres he also proved that the MP4-26 is capable of looking after its tyres.

One team to watch for this weekend is Toro Rosso as Jaime Alguersuari set the sixth fastest time of the morning, just 1.303s off Button. He was faster than Ferrari's beleaguered Felipe Massa, who was 1.951s off the pace and only fractionally faster than the second Toro Rosso of Sebastien Buemi.

Michael Schumacher was ninth fastest in the Mercedes ahead of the two Renaults, which look to be considerably more comfortable on Suzuka's high-speed sweepers than they were in Singapore two weeks ago. Schumacher's team-mate Nico Rosberg was 16th fastest but appeared to be completing heavier fuel runs, which is not abnormal for a Mercedes on Friday morning.

Despite some optimism ahead of the weekend, Williams appear to be struggling again with times well over four seconds off the pace. Matters were made worse when Pastor Maldonado pulled up with a suspected oil pressure problem following a trip over the grass in sector one. A closer inspection revealed that the spike in the data had been caused by the mistake rather than an actual engine problem, but the damage was already done as Maldonado was out of the session with just eight laps to his name.

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