First blood to Hamilton in Japan

10/10/2008
NEWS STORY

Ahead of today's opening free practice session, the air temperature is 22 degrees C, while the track temperature is 29 degrees. It is bright and sunny, with barely a cloud in the sky.

Toyota's Timo Glock, who finished a superb fourth in Singapore, is the latest driver to take advantage of the rule which allows one free engine change per season without penalty, the so-called joker rule.

The lights go green and Fisichella leads the way, followed by Heidfeld, Sutil and Coulthard.

The tyre options this weekend are medium and soft, which we will refer to as hard (medium) and soft (soft). As proof (?) of Formula One determination to be more environmentally friendly, the grooves of the tyres are painted green, giving them the appearance of a Liquorice Allsort crossed with a Pacer, remember them?

Quite how a green painted tyre helps the environment we don't know, one would have to ask a scientist, almost anyone at the BBC or indeed a Polar Bear. However, seeing as the tyres - which have a life cycle of less than sixty miles and are not recycled - are made in Japan then shipped to the UK and subsequently transported all over the planet to the various races, we fail to see just how 'green' these 'boots' really are.

Five minutes into the session and all but the Ferraris have been out. Bourdais and Button both completed two installation laps, as did Vettel, but still no times on the timesheets.

In the back of the McLaren garage, Lewis Hamilton, looking very relaxed, chats with Ron Dennis, who looks equally relaxed. Hard to believe that these guys are fighting for both titles.

Twelve minutes into the session, Kimi Raikkonen heads down the pitlane. His championship hopes at an end, the Finn will now have to work to support his teammate's title bid. Glock is also on track.

As Raikkonen heads back to the pits, his car looking awful with those silly green striped tyres, Glock looks set to post the first flying lap of the weekend. Sure enough, the German crosses the line at 1:22.937. Teammate Jarno Trulli heads down the pitlane.

Next time around, Glock improves with a 21.754, while Trulli, whose rear end gets out of shape in the final corner, goes second with a 22.404.

As Glock and Trulli improve to 21.330 and 21.799, respectively, Bourdais and Piquet leave the pits, two drivers whose seats are far from safe for next season.

The Frenchman goes third, then improves to second, only to be leapfrogged by Trulli and then the Renault driver who posts 21.453.

While Trulli heads back to the pits, teammate Glock remains on-track, improving to 20.883 after completing twelve laps. Elsewhere, Raikkonen is back on track.

As the Finn begins his first flying lap, Webber and Barrichello are also on track.

A 21.076 sees the World Champion go fourth, as Piquet takes the top spot with a 20.347.

Next time around, Raikkonen posts 20.043 to go quickest, ahead of Piquet, Bourdais, Glock and Webber. Nakajima goes seventh with a 22.891.

Raikkonen improves with a 19.985, as Kovalainen, Rosberg and Button get to work.

On and on he pushes, Raikkonen raises the benchmark with a 19.522, immediately going quickest in the first sector of his next lap. Massa watches from his car in the Ferrari garage.

As Kovalainen begins his first flying lap, teammate Hamilton heads down the pitlane. The Finn goes twelfth (26.605), as the Englishman goes quickest in the second sector. At the line it's 19.791, the World Championship leader going second on only his first lap. Still no sign of Massa coming out to play.

Kovalainen goes third with a 20.345, with his teammate taking the top spot moments later with a 19.464. That said, Raikkonen hits back with a 19.420.

As Hamilton goes wide, Massa heads down the pitlane. Meanwhile, Raikkonen improves again, crossing the line at 19.399. Game on!

As Massa begins his first flying lap, Singapore winner Fernando Alonso goes third with a 19.877. The Brazilian, however, can only manage 22.706, which is only good enough for eighteenth. Next time around he improves to fourth with a 20.019.

At half-time, it's: Raikkonen, Hamilton, Alonso, Massa, Vettel, Kovalainen, Piquet, Bourdais, Kubica and Glock.

After ten laps, Alonso slows in the second sector, he speeds up and then slows again, but manages to get back to the pits.

Having gone quickest in the final sector, Massa improves to third with a 19.472. Next time around the Brazilian posts 19.404 to make it a Ferrari 1-2.

Having completed ten laps, Coulthard improves to twelfth, while teammate Webber remains down in nineteenth.

Kubica improves to fifth, while Heidfeld is down in fifteenth. However, we know that in recent races, in the Friday sessions, BMW has tried its drivers on totally different strategies.

Vettel remains sixth (20.267), as he continues to confound the form books and no doubt further frustrate those teams who would love to have his signature on a contract.

Webber goes tenth with a 20.620 as Button improves to sixteenth. Raikkonen, Hamilton and Alonso are all back on track.

With just over thirty minutes remaining, we've yet to see the soft tyres being used. Though with all those horrible green stripes it might be difficult to notice.

A strong final sector sees Hamilton improve to 19.062, thereby leapfrogging the two Ferraris. His subsequent lap is a little ragged, with slides and lock-ups, while elsewhere, Heidfeld goes in for a spot of cross-country.

As Massa improves to second with a 19.288, the improves again with a 19.063 - just one-thousandth off Hamilton's pace - the Englishman hits back with an 18.910. Kovalainen (19.279) makes it a McLaren 1-3.

Massa goes quickest in the first sector, but loses a whole heap of time in the second sector. Elsewhere, Bourdais goes tenth, ahead of Webber, Heidfeld and Trulli.

A scrappy lap also from Kovalainen, he locks-up, gets out of shape and even goes wide as he enters pit straight. Tyre issues?

With twenty minutes remaining, and Nakajima trying to improve on twentieth, Glock has completed the most lap (26), ahead of Bourdais (25), Piquet (24) and Rosberg (23). Fastest through the pit-straight speed-trap is Coulthard (198.842 mph), ahead of Webber, Massa, Raikkonen, Heidfeld and Vettel.

Even though a couple of drivers are posting personal bests in various sectors, with ten minutes remaining there are no real improvements, and still no sign of the soft compound.

With just over seven minutes remaining, almost everyone is on track, Hamilton losing time behind Glock on his out lap. Alonso and Piquet both post personal bests in sector two but fail to improve overall.

Hamilton, having had a very strong first sector, gets ahead of himself at Turn 4 and backs off dramatically. Next time around the Englishman locks up, thereby losing more time. He's topping the timesheets but there's a hint of unease.

The chequered flag is waved, the session ends, with Hamilton quickest, ahead of Massa, Kovalainen, Raikkonen, Alonso, Piquet, Vettel, Kubica, Bourdais and Nakajima.

While Hamilton and the Williams head back to the pits, the rest of the field form up on the grid for practice starts.

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    Published: 10/10/2008
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