Button Leads the Way but Vettel Crashes
In the bright sunshine of Suzuka, Mclaren’s Jenson Button set the fastest lap in both free practice sessions, his best time of 1 minute 31.901 coming in the second of the day’s sessions. However, it was World Champion-elect Sebastian Vettel who grabbed the headlines when he became the latest of victim of one of the most underrated corners on the calendar – the Degner Curves. Hitting the barrier, most of the damage was to his pride although he should take comfort in the fact that he joins a list of high profile drivers to have come unstuck at the sequence in recent years. Rubens Barrichello had a similar moment, while Kamui Kobayashi had his Sauber sideways in 130R before recovering it in the nick of time.
Suzuka is one of the toughest tracks for tyres but they appear to be holding up quite well, with the soft compound lasting 12 laps and the medium surviving runs of around 20. That should improve as more rubber is put down on the track, however, the short pit lane at Suzuka could encourage teams to make more stops in order to exploit the early pace of the Pirelli compounds. With more than a second a lap difference between the soft and medium tyres, a mix of two and three stop strategies are expected.
Can you use DRS in the 130R? That’s the question facing the drivers this weekend. Red Bull could, although Vettel didn’t think it is “as easy as it used to be.” Answers on a postcard as to when he previously used DRS around Suzuka? Maybe he needs checking for signs of concussion. Felipe Massa admitted that Ferrari can’t follow suit, and while others seemed to be testing it, they weren’t fully committed like Red Bull. However, that may yet change as more rubber is put down and grip levels increase. Bruno Senna even went into Turn 1 with his rear wing open on his Renault – a trip into the gravel was his only reward.
Jenson Button seemed content with his day’s work but still seemed to think that Red Bull would be the team to beat. “It’s only Friday, but the car feels good around here,” declared the McLaren driver. “I’m pretty happy with today but we need to improve a lot more to really feel confident that we can really challenge the Red Bulls.”
Sebastian Vettel looked a little sheepish on his return to the pit lane after his off. “It wasn’t a big mistake this morning, but in that moment I wasn’t 100 percent awake and mistakes around here can be quite costly,” admitted the World Champion-elect. “I went off and tried to slow the car down, but I hit the wall slightly. It wasn’t a big impact, but it did some damage to the car, so it wasn’t perfect.”
Meanwhile, it was a frustrating day for Williams with Barrichello’s crash just one of a series of problems for the outfit. “I had limited running today which was unfortunate,” said Barrichello. “In this morning’s session, a puncture cut my session short and then an off this afternoon also put me out early.” Meanwhile, an early engine problem and an off for Maldonado restricted his track time as the Williams pair completed just 40 laps between them.
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