Hamilton thinks Red Bull runs light
Red Bull the car to beat - Button
Renault encouraged by improved showing
Better first impressions for Massa
Williams has 'work cut out'
Who said what after Friday practice at Suzuka
- Japanese Grand Prix
- FIA Formula One World Championship
Jenson Button maintained his position at the top of the timesheets during second practice for the Japanese Grand Prix, clocking the fastest time ahead of Fernando Alonso.
His lap of 1:31.901 was 0.174s faster than Alonso and 0.194s faster than Sebastian Vettel in third. Mark Webber was again fourth fastest, 0.246s slower than the lead McLaren, but ahead of Felipe Massa who was back up to speed in fifth.
However, yellow flags to clear the stricken Williams of Pastor Maldonado meant several drivers failed to set a clear low-fuel lap on soft tyres. Lewis Hamilton was probably the hardest hit and finished the session in eighth, 1.344s off his McLaren team-mate.
Over the longer runs the Red Bulls looked more competitive and are still favourites for victory this weekend despite failing to match the headline times of Button. Tellingly, the Red Bulls could comfortably leave their DRS open through the 190mph 130R corner, proving just how much downforce the RB7 has in reserve.
Other drivers were able to emulate the Red Bull's party trick but none of them looked quite so comfortable in the high-speed sections of the circuit, and Kamui Kobayashi's attempt almost ended in disaster as the rear of his car stepped out with only his lightning-fast reactions saving Sauber from a hefty repair bill. Bruno Senna also had a nasty DRS-related incident as his wing remained open into turn one and he ended up sideways, scrubbing off speed before coming to a halt in the gravel.
The biggest accident of the afternoon happened at the notoriously tricky Degner curves, where Rubens Barrichello put a wheel on the grass on entry and slammed into the barriers sideways, damaging both front and rear suspension. Team-mate Maldonado's engine problem later in the session rounded off a rotten day for Williams, which racked up very limited mileage over the two sessions.
Mercedes resumed its usual position several tenths off the pace of the top three, but looks to be clear of the rest of the midfield headed up by the Renaults and Toro Rossos. Force India and Sauber are also in the mix but will be hard pushed to book a place in Q3 on Saturday.
Lotus might fancy their chances of a Q2 slot if Williams continue to struggle in final practice, but the likelihood is that it will be business as usual at the back of the grid with the Lotuses leading the Virgins and HRTs. Tonio Liuzzi had the shortest Friday session of all, with just four laps to his name after Narain Karthikeyan drove his car in the morning and he ground to a halt with a water pressure issue in the afternoon.