Times from FP1 here.
Times from FP2 here.
Red Bull – Still quite a way off Mercedes in FP1’s qualifying simulations, but both Vettel and Webber demonstrated excellent tyre preservation and speed to take back the initiative in the afternoon. There is a sterner challenge from Mercedes than Korea presented, but in Red Bull’s position 2nd fastest is adequate enough.
Mercedes – Lightning quick in FP1 and comfortably preserving their 0.3 advantage over Red Bull, but still some way to go on race simulations. Very little to say, but at this early stage the F1W04 appears to be hanging on to the tyres as well as the RB9. FP3 should provide clues ahead of qualifying.
Lotus – Looking a little closer to the front than Korea, both Raikkonen and Grosjean also cemented the Lotus’ legendary race pace with some fine runs before the Finn uncharacteristically span off half-way through FP2. The loss of track time will cause some consternation, but if anyone can recover it’s Kimi. Grosjean was again looking like he could mix it with the big boys this weekend.
Ferrari – Alonso’s hope of that 8th place or higher finish looked under threat on Friday as the Spaniard ended the day behind team-mate Massa in both sessions. His FP2 simulations were consistent but not even remotely threatening to Red Bull and Mercedes, and if anything Massa looks to have the upper hand early on.
McLaren – 5th for Button in FP2 early on was a promising start, but again McLaren’s lack of relative speed on the softer Pirelli tyre meant they fell down the order as the running progressed. Race simulations were steady, but Button bore the brunt of the work after Perez binned his MP4/28 into the wall at Spoon Curve. So far it looks like another holding weekend for the British team.
Toro Rosso – Much improvement from Daniel Ricciardo meant Toro Rosso featured inside the top ten for the first time in several races, and the Australian’s race simulation was not too shabby either. Jean Eric Vergne did not join him up the top of the timesheets and seemed to struggle with setup, but Ricciardo looks good for a couple of points on Sunday if he continues in this vein.
Sauber – There’s credit for Esteban Gutierrez in that he was one of the few rookies to keep his car on the circuit all day, but that was as good as it got. Even the flamboyant Hulkenberg seemed to be a little off the pace of that grand Korea showing, but the race simulations were competitive if not stunning.
Force India – Another day of disappointment for the Anglo-Indian team saw Sutil and Di Resta languishing around the 15th-18th place mark at Suzuka, with Di Resta once again struggling to get his tyres switched on. Neither man crashed, but both incurred the wrath of Mark Webber who believed the duo had balked some of his laps in FP2.
Williams – Fined for Pastor Maldonado’s wheel-less moment in FP1 that left him in a spin at Spoon, things got worse when the Venezuelan crashed at Degner Two in the second session. That left the lion’s share of the setup work to Bottas, who did his best despite a spectacularly-underpeforming car. The updates from Korea don’t seem to have worked, and heads are being scratched.
Caterham – Heikki Kovalainen’s run in FP1 might be the little advantage Caterham need this weekend to give them a chance of the important 13th place in the race, but Marussia are closer than some imagined. Despite Van Der Garde’s Degner Two shunt it was a solid but quiet day at the back of the grid.
Marussia – Bianchi’s bizarre FP1 accident, apparently caused by his elbow and a very tight gap, left the Frenchman sitting out FP2 and leaving Chilton to do the donkey work, like several others up and down the field whose team-mates had been sampling the Suzuka barriers. That Bianchi was still quicker than the Englishman at the end of FP1 despite his slip didn’t do much to instill faith in Chilton’s abilities to carry the team on his own.