Red Bull has lived up to the pre-race expectations of others by locking out a 1-2 in the opening practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix, with Sebastian Vettel edging out team-mate Mark Webber for top honours by the scarcest of margins.
The defending race-winner moved to the top of the timesheets halfway through the 90-minute session, and maintained his top position for the remainder of the morning’s running, eventually lowering his best effort with a 1m32.585s, which was nearly toppled by Webber in the closing minutes.
Impressive performances from Robert Kubica and Adrian Sutil earned then third- and fourth-quickest (respectively) overall, but fifth-quickest Lewis Hamilton would be left ruing lost practice time after he mangled his McLaren against the Degner Curve barriers at the session’s halfway mark.
Shortly after having his quickest lap time deposed by Red Bull’s Vettel, Hamilton ran wide entering Degner 1 and was unable to correct the error by the time Degner 2 came along, which saw the Briton slide through the small gravel trap and plough into the barriers, well and truly bending the front-left corner of his McLaren.
It was not a particularly good session for McLaren, with Hamilton’s off losing the team valuable practice time needed to assess the new aerodynamic updates it had brought along to the circuit.
Team-mate Jenson Button came oh-so-close to replicating Hamilton’s accident, having his own wild slide through the Degner gravel – and somehow avoiding the wall – with just two minutes to run. Button would end the session a lowly twelfth-quickest.
Fellow title contender Fernando Alonso had an equally anonymous session, finishing up in 13th place overall, and two places adrift of his team-mate Felipe Massa.
Meanwhile, Williams had a positive start to its weekend, with Rubens Barrichello and Nico Hülkenberg winding up sixth- and seventh-quickest overall, and Michael Schumacher had a rare moment of actually out-pacing his Mercedes GP team-mate Nico Rosberg, with the seven-time World Champion a pleasing eighth-quickest.
The Silver Arrows’ sandwiched the Sauber of Nick Heidfeld, who posted a fastest time some four-tenths quicker than team-mate – and darling of the Japanese crowds – Kamui Kobayashi.
2010 Japanese GP Practice 1 Session Times:
[Original images via GP Update]