McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen topped a rain-soaked practice at Suzuka where some drivers braved the wet conditions to get their first taste of the circuit – and others sat out a whole session in the dry.
The McLaren driver set his 1:40.356 mark on a drying circuit in the dying moments of the first session, narrowly pipping Williams homeboy Kazuki Nakajima’s lap of 1:40.648. Force India’s Adrian Sutil was third.
Few experienced drivers wanted to venture out at the beginning of the session, when the track was covered in standing water, but there were plenty of first-timers keen to learn the circuit.
They included both McLaren pilots, and they were the early pace-setters until Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Renault’s Fernando Alonso emerged, both rapidly setting fastest times.
Also right on the pace were Ferrari’s Giancarlo Fisichella, who ended the session a promising fourth, and Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi in fifth.
Lewis Hamilton was sixth, Alonso seventh and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen eighth, with Brawn GP’s Rubens Barrichello in ninth and Williams’ Nico Rosberg 10th. Championship leader Jenson Button was 18th, some three seconds off the leaders.
Inevitably the damp track saw some incidents, with Fisichella and Alonso both misjudging the hairpin and Force India’s Vitantonio Liuzzi running wide across a kerb.
More rain fell between the two sessions and many teams initially felt disinclined to risk their cars and wear out engines and tyres tackling it in the second session with little useful data to be gained.
After a delay of an hour, kicked off by a nailbiting lap from Toro Rosso rookie Jamie Algersuari that saw him nearly lose the car in standing water at turn eight, several drivers put in exploratory laps before heading straight back for the pits.
Finally, with little more than 10 minutes left on the clock, Alonso headed a charge. Sutil made a brave effort with an unofficial fastest lap of 1:47.261 despite running wide at the tricky turn 14. He was followed by Vettel on 1:47.923 and Liuzzi on 1:47.931. Only Kovalainen, Button and Barrichello did not set a time. Hamilton was fourth-fastest ahead of Nakajima and Buemi.
The lack of track and set-up time for everyone means that tomorrow’s qualifying session may be a lively one, and may well throw up some upsets.
Practice two times
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: 1:47.261 (5 laps)
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: 1:47.923 (6 laps)
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India: 1:47.931 (4 laps)
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 1:47.983 (5 laps)
- Kazuki Nakajima, Williams: 1:48.058 (8 laps)
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso: 1:48.691 (9 laps)
- Fernando Alonso, Renault: 1:48.693 (5 laps)
- Jarno Trulli, Toyota; 1:48.737 (6 laps)
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso; 1:48.802 (11 laps)
- Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber: 1:48.861 (6 laps)
- Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: 1:48.886: (4 laps)
- Kamui Kobayashi, Toyota: 1:49.054 (7 laps)
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 1:49.382 (7 laps)
- Romain Grosjean, Renault: 1:49.405 (6 laps)
- Giancarlo Fisichella, Ferrari: 1:49.553 (5 laps)
- Nico Rosberg, Williams: 1:49.872 + 2.611 (7 laps)
- Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber: 1:50.179 (9 laps)
- Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren: no time
- Jenson Button, Brawn GP: no time
- Rubens Barrichello, Brawn GP: no time
Practice one times
- Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren: 1:40.356 (24 laps)
- Kazuki Nakajima, Williams: 1:40.648 (18 laps)
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: 1:40.806 (14 laps)
- Giancarlo Fisichella, Ferrari: 1:40.985 (27 laps)
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso: 1:41.421 (26 laps)
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 1:41.443 (15 laps)
- Fernando Alonso, Renault: 1:41.532 (22 laps)
- Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: 1:41.577 (25 laps)
- Rubens Barrichello, Brawn GP: 1:41.821 (18 laps)
- Nico Rosberg, Williams: 1:42.188 (20 laps)
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 1:42.332 (10 laps)
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India: 1:42.475 (15 laps)
- Jarno Trulli, Toyota: 1:42.657 (13 laps)
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso: 1:42.667 (27 laps)
- Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber: 1:42.833 (16 laps)
- Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber: 1:42.977 (14 laps)
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: 1:43.218 (11 laps)
- Jenson Button, Brawn GP: 1:43.318 (17 laps)
- Kamui Kobayashi, Toyota: 1:43.407 (16 laps)
- Romain Grosjean, Renault: 1:43.572 (22 laps)