Qualifying was washed out on Saturday in Suzuka. Anyone who watched a live broadcast of the event might have been amused at a shot of a mechanic floating a makeshift model of the Queen Mary down the river that had formed in pit lane. Surely the fans huddled in the grandstands would not have been much cheered by the sight. They had paid good money to see their favorite drivers vie for pole, but what they saw instead was a competition for dry space and high ground in the paddock.
Suzuka has not been this wet since 2004, when qualifying was postponed until the morning of race day. The same schedule adjustment will occur this year. If there’s a similar cloudburst tomorrow, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen. Formula 1 generally doesn’t stop for rain unless the water rises to hip boot level. Such was the case today. Even the safety car was hesitant about making reconnaissance laps.
As for Friday practice, there were few real surprises, if you set aside the fact that Lewis Hamilton crashed after only nine laps and sat out the rest of the session. That said, his lap time was good enough to keep him in fifth position. Hamilton has said that his collisions and subsequent DNFs in the previous two races wouldn’t inhibit him and make him overly cautious during the rest of the season, and judging from his performance in FP1, he’s good to his word.
Practice sessions are always a mixed bag. Some teams might be going for quick laps on low fuel to prepare for qualifying, while others might be working on heavy or medium fuel setups for the race. In FP1, the Red Bulls led the way, which really surprised no one. While both Ferrari and McLaren have made performance gains recently, Red Bull still lead the field, irrespective of the fact that Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari took winner’s laurels at the last two venues. Red Bull is still the team to beat.
The trend was repeated in FP2, with Vettel and Webber still running one-two, and Kubica chasing in third. Perhaps the most unexpected performance of both of Friday’s sessions belonged to the Pole. Renault had been making noises that they’d be able to up their game a bit for Suzuka, and the early indications are that they’ll be leading the best-of-the-rest category, i.e. the pack that follows Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren.
Michael Schumacher made a good showing, outpacing team mate Nico Rosberg in both of Friday’s sessions. If I’m not mistaken, it’s the first time he’s been able to do that this year. Whether or not he can carry that over to qualifying and the race remains to be seen. The general trend has been that, no matter how well Schumi does on Friday, Rosberg is able to get the upper hand on Saturday and Sunday. But Schumacher loves Suzuka. He’s won there six times, and if he stands to do well anywhere, it’s at the storied Japanese venue.
Both Ferraris were midfield laggards during the first session, which was typical for the Scuderia. They seem to prefer to work with heavy fuel loads in the first session, and then work on quicker laps in the afternoon. In FP2, they lined up behind the Red Bulls and Kubica, with Button’s McLaren in seventh. Lewis Hamilton was down in 13th, but he only managed eight laps, as his mechanics were busy during most of the session trying to repair the damage he’d done to his car in the first session.
If one can judge anything from practice, it looks as though the Ferraris will be on the heels of the Red Bulls, with the McLarens in pursuit. The time gaps shown in practice might be significant, though. Vettel, again flaunting his raw speed, was nearly 4/10ths quicker than his team mate Webber, and nearly 9/10ths quicker than Alonso. If that’s any clue to race day speed, Alonso will have his work cut out for him.
Another intresting factor: Webber is currently leading the title chase, with Alonso lying second. Would Red Bull be willing to employ the tactic that Ferrari used in Germany this year, and ask Vettel to move over for Webber, for the extra points? Or, perhaps more importantly, would Vettel be willing to move over of asked?
Free Practice 1
Pos Driver Car Time Gap Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m32.585s 23
2. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m32.633s + 0.048s 23
3. Robert Kubica Renault 1m33.129s + 0.544s 23
4. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m33.639s + 1.054s 13
5. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m33.643s + 1.058s 9
6. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m33.677s + 1.092s 21
7. Nico Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1m33.707s + 1.122s 24
8. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m33.739s + 1.154s 20
9. Nick Heidfeld Sauber-Ferrari 1m33.791s + 1.206s 23
10. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m33.831s + 1.246s 9
11. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m33.929s + 1.344s 25
12. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m34.042s + 1.457s 19
13. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m34.169s + 1.584s 23
14. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m34.271s + 1.686s 19
15. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m34.373s + 1.788s 24
16. Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1m34.379s + 1.794s 21
17. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m34.991s + 2.406s 26
18. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m35.684s + 3.099s 22
19. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1m36.949s + 4.364s 25
20. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m37.329s + 4.744s 17
21. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1m37.388s + 4.803s 23
22. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m37.778s + 5.193s 23
23. Bruno Senna Hispania-Cosworth 1m38.814s + 6.229s 28
24. Sakon Yamamoto Hispania-Cosworth 1m39.443s + 6.858s 26
Free Practice 2
Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:31.465 31
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:31.860 + 0.395 29
3. Kubica Renault 1:32.200 + 0.735 32
4. Alonso Ferrari 1:32.362 + 0.897 34
5. Massa Ferrari 1:32.519 + 1.054 35
6. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:32.533 + 1.068 28
7. Petrov Renault 1:32.703 + 1.238 32
8. Schumacher Mercedes 1:32.831 + 1.366 27
9. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:32.842 + 1.377 26
10. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:32.851 + 1.386 26
11. Rosberg Mercedes 1:32.880 + 1.415 26
12. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:33.471 + 2.006 31
13. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:33.481 + 2.016 8
14. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:33.564 + 2.099 16
15. Heidfeld Sauber-Ferrari 1:33.697 + 2.232 33
16. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:34.005 + 2.540 32
17. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:34.055 + 2.590 37
18. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:34.310 + 2.845 33
19. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:36.095 + 4.630 37
20. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:36.333 + 4.868 33
21. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:36.630 + 5.165 28
22. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:36.834 + 5.369 28
23. Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:37.352 + 5.887 33
24. Yamamoto HRT-Cosworth 1:37.831 + 6.366 34