After the signature heat and humidity of the last two grands prix in Singapore and Malaysia, preparation for the Japanese Grand Prix at the renowned Suzuka Circuit began under much cooler conditions. Friday's two 90-minute practice outings were held under mostly cloudy skies, with the air temperature topping out at 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit).
Romain Grosjean led the way for Haas F1 Team in FP1. His quick time of 1:35.688 around the 5.807-kilometer (3.608-mile), 18-turn circuit was good for 14th fastest, and it came on his 15th lap during his second timed stint. Grosjean earned the mark riding on slightly used set of Pirelli P Zero White medium tires - the same set he had used for his installation lap at the start of FP1. Shortly after securing his fast lap, however, a brake issue resulted in a dramatic tire lock up and off-track excursion at turn nine. Grosjean was able to maneuver out of the gravel trap and bring his Haas VF-16 back to the garage with minimal damage. Quick work by the crew during the final 25 minutes of the session allowed Grosjean to make one final lap before time expired.
In comparison, teammate Esteban Gutierrez's FP1 session was more straightforward. He ran the White medium tires exclusively and secured his best time, a 1:36.219, on his 14th lap to earn the 17th fastest time.
Atop FP1 was the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. The title protagonists locked out the time sheets, with Rosberg's quick time of 1:32.431 besting his teammate by .215 of a second.
FP2 started with Grosjean and Gutierrez completing baseline runs in their respective racecars. Gutierrez ran seven laps on the White medium tires while Grosjean logged eight laps on the Pirelli P Zero Orange hard tires. With both drivers switching to new sets of the Pirelli P Zero Yellow soft tires for their qualifying simulations, lap times predictably dropped.
Grosjean set a quick time of 1:34.241 on his 11th lap of the session, good for 13th overall. Similarly, Gutierrez recorded his fastest lap of the afternoon with a 1:34.643 on his 10th lap that placed him 17th overall. Gutierrez only made one more lap after that quick time, as a problem with the turbo on his Haas VF-16 abruptly sidelined him prior to the Degner Curves with 50 minutes remaining.
Grosjean, meanwhile, concluded FP2 with a long-distance run, starting with a nine-lap tour on a used set of Orange hard tires. He pitted to swap those out for a used set of Yellow softs, logging 12 more laps through to the checkered flag.
Mercedes led the way again in FP2 with Rosberg continuing to set the pace. His quick time of 1:32.250 was .072 of a second faster than Hamilton.
Between the two sessions, Haas F1 Team ran a total of 82 laps - 50 by Grosjean and 32 by Gutierrez.
Romain Grosjean: "First off, this is always a great track to drive. We have a lot of fun around here. Clearly, we had some issues with the brakes today, which didn't make our life easy, but eventually we worked our way around it. We still have a lot of work to do tonight trying to balance the car. It's one of those tracks where the timing is very tight. Two tenths of a second can make a big difference. Let's hope we find those."
Esteban Gutierrez: "It was quite a tricky day. We've been trying to experiment a little bit, trying to find the best compromise in every area of the car. We now have a pretty good idea. We tested a few things so we can get ready for tomorrow. Unfortunately, we ended up with a failure in the afternoon, but this will not harm us in continuing our program for Saturday and our focus on qualifying."
Guenther Steiner: "In general we had a good testing session. In FP1 though, Romain had an issue with his brakes. He went long and into the barrier and broke his front wing. Nothing else was damaged, so that was a straightforward fix with a change of front wing. We obviously lost a bit of time. In FP2, Romain's car was flawless but Esteban had a problem. We had an issue with the turbocharger, which we're still investigating why and where it came from. We had to stop his session as he was stranded out on the track. With the rest we learned quite a bit. We still have to work on the setup for tomorrow and the balance of the car, but we're not looking too bad."
Check out our Friday gallery from Suzuka, here.