Red Bull driver Mark Webber set the fastest time in yesterday’s practice for the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix, edging McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton and teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Webber was ahead of Mercedes-bound Hamilton by 0.214 seconds in the afternoon practice at the Suzuka circuit. Vettel was third, a further 0.1 seconds back.
“The car ran well and we tested both tires,” Webber said. “We have areas where we can improve, mostly with the balance, so we have some work to do.”
Hamilton, who won the Japanese Grand Prix in 2007 when the event was staged at Fuji Speedway, but who has never taken top honors at the Suzuka circuit, said he expects a tough challenge from the Red Bulls at the weekend.
“It looks very close between ourselves and Red Bull,” he said.
Michael Schumacher — who announced on Thursday that he will retire at the end of the season — was 10th in practice. The Mercedes driver spun off the track at the Spoon Curve, slamming into a bank of tires. He walked away from the incident and appeared unhurt.
Force India driver Paul di Resta also lost control of his car at the same curve and was unable to continue.
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg was fourth, ahead of championship leader Fernando Alonso of Ferrari. Lotus’ Romain Grosjean was sixth and he moved in front of last year’s Japanese Grand Prix winner Jenson Button, who led much of the afternoon session, but could not stay ahead.
Williams driver Bruno Senna and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa were eighth and ninth respectively.
Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen, who is third in the standings and maintains title hopes, despite not having won a race in his comeback season, had a KERS problem and finished in 14th place.
Vettel trails Alonso by 29 points in the standings and is aiming to make up more ground in tomorrow’s 53-lap race. The German driver won the previous race in Singapore and has traditionally done well in Japan — winning in 2009 and 2010.
Alonso has not won since the German Grand Prix in July and his series lead has been cut with six races to go.
Webber has won twice this year — at Monaco and Silverstone — and he is fifth in the standings.