Heikki Kovalainen and Adrian Sutil topped the timesheets in the first two practice sessions for the Japanese Grand Prix, though Mother Nature was arguably the winner.
The opening 90 minute session got underway on a wet track, with a majority of teams selecting to start the session on the wet tyres, before moving onto intermediates for the end of the session. This, of course, meant that set-up work for a race weekend that is expected to be dry, was near impossible, with teams departing from their normal Friday objectives.
“Today was just a matter of trying out the tyres in order to get an understanding of where the change over points are and how the inters and full wets are working, degradation-wise,” said Nico Rosberg. “What was clear was that I pretty much destroyed the wets when the track dried out.”
That gave teams another problem, as Sebastian Vettel explains. “I think the general problem today for all is that teams are short of wet tyres – whatever you use today has to also count as part of your allocation for the weekend.”
However, the first session saw all 20 cars on track, with Mark Webber only running 10 laps, the lowest of all.
With the track changing throughout the session the timesheets were mixed, more dependent on when the laps were run than general pace. The final times saw Kovalainen run fastest (1:40.356) nearly three-tenths ahead of crowd favourite Kazuki Nakajima (who could only extend himself to describe his running as “ok”). Adrian Sutil was third (1:40:806) with Fischella and Sebastien Buemi completing the mixed up top five.
At the foot of the speed charts was Romain Grosjean, who suffered the indignity of being beaten by Kamui Kobayashi drafted in at very late notice to sit in for Timo Glock, who is suffering from what the team describe as a “very heavy cold and fever”. Struggling against the wet conditions and a testing ban that mean he hasn't driven the car on-track since February, Kobayashi's pace was creditable, while Grosjean continued to suffer.
The second practice was a very different affair. A torrential downpour between the two practices left conditions undriveable. Only the two Toro Rosso drivers ventured out in the first hour, Alguersuari commenting “at least we know how the car works on the extreme wets.”
In the final half hour business picked up with 17 drivers setting a time, Sutil's fastest lap (1:47.261) illustrating the deterioration in conditions between the two sessions. Only P1 pacesetter Kovalainen and the two Brawns kept their cars dry, Rubens Barrichello assessing the conditions, “the rain [before P2] was heavy enough to create small rivers on parts of the track and there was nothing to be gained by going out.”
Team Principal Ross Brawn added “As the weather forecast shows a dry qualifying and race and with limited wet weather tyres, we felt that there was nothing further to be learnt from running again this afternoon.”
The wet first two sessions all but guarantee a busy final practice session (11am local time) on Saturday, with Adrian Sutil perhaps summing up the paddock's position when he said “But still nobody really knows the score about the weather and dry set-ups so it will be an interesting weekend for sure.”