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Mat Coch writes:
After the dark night skies of Singapore the teams were welcomed in Suzuka by bright sunshine, the McLaren pair of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton setting the early pace.
Ahead of the track action getting underway, routine scrutineering focussed on front wing flexibility as was expected in the build up to the weekend. Unsurprisingly all those tested passed, despite the FIA employing a more stringent test.
The FIA was not alone in testing something new. Williams was busy working on bodywork with a view to next weekend's Korean Grand Prix, while Caterham too were comparing a new front wing on Vitaly Petrov's car against the older spec design on test driver Guido Van der Garde's. After its best ever result in Singapore Marussia was again busy testing updates, Timo Glock focussing on the rear wing as the team looks to defend its tenth place in the Constructors' Championship. Even Fernando Alonso, who sat out much of the early running, ran flo-vis paint on his front wing.
Lewis Hamilton was the first to set a representative time with a 1:34.910 as teams worked through their early programmes, seeing most drivers only completing an installation lap on the harder compound tyres.
With much of the circuit resurfaced since the 2011 race times are expected to tumble across the weekend, most notably on Saturday morning when teams begin their flying lap simulations ahead of the hour long qualifying session.
A blustery wind which moved from a tail wind heading in to turn one in to a cross wind down the main straight, complicating matters especially for the more adventurous who rounded the flat out 130R with the DRS wide open. It caught a number of drivers off as they began exploring their limits, Romain Grosjean, Mark Webber and Narain Karthikeyan all having brief excursions off track.
Serious running began about midway through the session, Webber and Jenson Button improving on Hamilton's early time with Nico Rosberg not far behind. However Mercedes looked to be concerned with cooling, focussing on the right hand sidepods and using damp cloths on the exhaust as its car returned to the pits.
Steering changes to Paul Di Resta's car were made to make the Scot more comfortable in the car, both Force India's showing competitive pace early by running inside the top ten for most of the session, with Hulkenberg trailing his teammate.
Sergio Perez had his heart in his mouth after running wide at 130R, the Sauber bouncing over the curb and on to the Astroturf with all four wheels well off the circuit. Only quick reactions from the Mexican kept the car in more or less a straight line and out of the barrier before he rejoined the circuit via the grass.
Red Bull looked to be running a split programme with Webber well up the order while world champion Sebastian Vettel languished towards the foot of the timing screens.
Ferrari meanwhile continued testing the rear wing it had originally taken to Singapore before opting to run its older spec wing, the Italian team clearly looking to correlate findings from the wind tunnel against the on track performance. The Ferrari pair notched up more than twenty laps each during the 90-minute session.
Nico Rosberg's session came to an end with little more than a minute remaining, stopping his car in the esses at the beginning of the lap. The German pulled his car over to the side of the circuit as he ground to an abrupt halt. The cause of the problem was not obvious, leading to suggestions it was related to the cooling issues.
It effectively ended the session, leaving both McLaren drivers out front chased by Webber's Red Bull. Both Ferrari's were in the midfield with Massa in seventh and Alonso just eleventh. Vettel meanwhile failed to improve beyond his seventeenth best time, though the German did look to be focussed on a different development programme.
Check out our Friday gallery, here.
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