McLaren's Jenson Button was pretty buoyant after setting the pace today in practice ahead Sunday's F1 2011 Japanese Grand Prix.
Button topped the times in both FP1 and FP2, his best lap a 1 minute 31.901 seconds, which left him 0.174 seconds up on Fernando Alonso's Ferrari. Despite being at the head of the times though, the Englishman conceded it is difficult to know where they really stand.
“It's always fun driving around Suzuka, particularly when you have a good car beneath you,” Button reflected. “This is an amazing circuit – the first sector is phenomenal; there is no rest, I don't think you breathe through that whole sector. It's all about getting it together and finding a balance that lets you flow through there.
“And the car feels good around here. I don't really know what to take from today in terms of where we stand, but the car feels pretty good. We tried a couple of different fuel-loads: on heavier fuel, the car feels okay through the high-speed changes of direction, although there are still some areas to improve – particularly in the long runs. The important thing for us is to get the car sorted and ready to challenge for victory.”
Team-mate Lewis Hamilton meanwhile was second in FP1 and eighth in FP2, his best a 1m 33.245s. He though, was also feeling quite positive, despite predicting that tyre degradation could be a factor in the race.
“Suzuka is a fantastic track to drive, especially when the weather's as beautiful as today,” Hamilton said. “Looking at the times, I think Red Bull typically carries less fuel than us during Friday's long-run practices – that's often been the case throughout the year – and we're often closer in the races. I think our long-run pace, particularly on Jenson's car, looks good: I think we've got a good chance of being very competitive. Also, our pace over a single lap also looks very good.
“Actually, I think looking after the tyres during the race will be the biggest challenge, because degradation could be a slight issue for the teams.”
“It's always encouraging to end the day fastest, and Jenson really underlined our pace by heading up both of today's free practice sessions,” summarised team principal, Martin Whitmarsh. “We've made a number of small changes to the cars for Japan and we're encouraged by the results – not just for this weekend, but as the foundation for development at future races.
“Lewis wasn't able to capitalise on the softer rubber when his tyres were at their optimum due to several yellow-flag sectors during P2, but, nevertheless, he's still encouraged by the pace of the car over both a single flying-lap and a long-run.
“It's always hard to make accurate assessments of other teams' pace on higher fuel-loads, but we've been very focused on our own programme and feel comfortable with our pace given the fuel we were carrying. Obviously, that belief will be borne out tomorrow in qualifying and we hope that our predictions prove to be accurate,” he summed-up.