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Jenson Button topped the timesheets for opening practice ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix, leading the way from McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton. As the track bathed in glorious sunshine, Red Bull’s Mark Webber completed the top three while the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg parked up in the dying minutes.
It was a mostly incident-free first 90-minute practice session of the weekend – very much a contrast to the recent headline-filling situations off the track involving Lewis Hamilton, Sergio Pérez and Michael Schumacher. To the relief of all as hotel curtains were opened this morning, the rain of the last two years was nowhere to be seen.
As Valtteri Bottas drove Bruno Senna’s Williams and Giedo van der Garde stepped into the Caterham cockpit for the second time this season, it was a crucial time for Lotus which will finally race its ‘Double DRS’ device this weekend; in somewhat reserved fashion, Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean finished in 13th and 14th positions and both look forward to a massive update for Korea next weekend.
Although poor weather was out of the question, the field did have to contend with a resurfaced track stretching from Dunlop Curve to the exit of the Casio Triangle chicane, where new drainage has also been installed. Hamilton was first to post a lap time, as Webber and Sebastian Vettel realised that – with no exhaust-blown diffuser, as in 2011 – they certainly cannot navigate 130R with their DRS wide open. It was a quiet session for the German, who did not aim for a quick lap and finished up 17th.
It looked as though the soon to retire Michael Schumacher was suffering a problem with his Mercedes, but a removal of a sidepod cover proved to be only routine in the garage. Team-mate Rosberg stopped on-track entering The Esses shortly before the chequered flag flew, but it remains to be seen whether this was a significant issue.
As local hero Kamui Kobayashi finished inside the top six, championship leader Fernando Alonso was 11th but all drivers were dramatically preserving sets of tyres. For Suzuka, Pirelli’s Hard (silver markings) and Soft compounds (yellow) are in use.
Second free practice at Suzuka begins at 2pm local time (BST +8) and can also be followed through the interactive GPUpdate.net Live Report
|3.||M. Webber||Red Bull||01:34.856||24|
|8.||P. di Resta||Force India||01:35.299||18|
|9.||N. Hulkenberg||Force India||01:35.474||22|
|25 May||We were too ambitious, admits Whitmarsh|
|23 May||Button: Long race pace surprisingly good|
|21 May||Video: McLaren youngster Ben Barnicoat|
|21 May||Whitmarsh: Lowe release the right thing to do|
|2012 Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix|
|9 Oct '12||Williams still pushing for double points finishes|
|9 Oct '12||Red Bull: New DDRS not the only winning factor|
|9 Oct '12||Grosjean making extra effort to avoid crashes|
|9 Oct '12||Schumacher hoping to see more Korean fans|
|11 May||Button questions tyre pressures in Q2|
|11 May||Video of the Day: Button on race preparation|
|10 May||Button unsure over extent of McLaren gains|
|10 May||Button gives McLaren fine of €1000 euros|
|25 May||Video of the Day: Sauber tech bites - CFD|
|24 May||Caterham to retain Renault engines in 2014|
|24 May||Räikkönen modifies Monaco helmet design|
|24 May||Video: Sauber drivers preview Monaco GP|
|More Jenson Button photos|