Jenson Button once again reminded the Formula 1 paddock of his street circuit prowess by placing his Honda inside the top ten on the timing sheets in both of Friday's free practice sessions ahead of the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix to be held on Sunday.
Despite admitting to not having 'got the best' out of his RA108 on his fastest lap around the all-new Marina Bay Street Circuit, the British ace nevertheless proved quick enough to sit tenth at the end of the morning session, before improving a couple of spots later on to give the big-budget Japanese concern hope perhaps of registering its first points this weekend since team-mate Rubens Barrichello's podium finish at Silverstone – and his own first points since Barcelona all the way back in April.
“It was a very strange day of testing,” the 28-year-old acknowledged, pointing to the fact that his 'day' had actually been a night. “You would expect the conditions to be cooler, but that has to be one of the hottest Fridays that we've ever had and it was just so humid.
“The circuit is interesting to drive and it's very bumpy, which adds to the excitement as the bumps bounce the car all over the place. We spent both sessions trying to improve the ride quality and balance of the car by testing many different things, and the outcome was largely positive.
“We didn't get the best out of the car on my final run with the new tyres, due to too much understeer, but it was still nice to end up eighth-quickest. All-in-all, a good start to the weekend and I'm sure there is still a lot more to come.”
Barrichello, by contrast, professed himself far less pleased with the balance of the sister Honda – complaining of instability, too much front-end grip and oversteer – and the experienced Brazilian gave his mechanics some unexpected work to do when he spun into the barriers midway through the morning session, damaging his rear wing
“We worked really hard,” the 36-year-old underlined, “but unfortunately our practice was compromised as the car was bouncing and touching the ground so much. I was a passenger for the second session really as we could not resolve the problem, despite trying many different solutions.
“The layout of the circuit is quite good but it is very bumpy, which has been the cause of the problems with our car. The lighting is quite bright, although there seems to be a dark spot at turn five. Visibility is not a problem, but it may be more tricky if it rains.”
“We have endeavoured to make the schedule as normal as possible by staying more-or-less on European time,” summarised the Brackley-based outfit's head of race and test engineering Steve Clark. “It's just a little strange when you look at your watch! The heat and humidity is tough, but as always this improves as you become accustomed to the conditions.
“The true test came in-between the sessions, following Rubens' small accident in the closing stages of FP1. We normally have the 'luxury' of a two-and-a-half hour interval to make any repairs or set-up changes. Here in Singapore, the schedule affords just a one-hour break, and it was a race against time in fierce humidity for the mechanics to make the necessary changes to the car. Rubens missed only 15 minutes of the second session, so congratulations to the team on a great turnaround.
“We have also done some good work in race trim, because brake wear and temperatures can be an issue at this type of track. We would like to have a clearer view of tyres and set-up for qualifying and the race at this stage, but in reality we will have to be very careful with the evolving track conditions as things change significantly between now and Sunday. We will need to stay sharp and respond quickly as the track develops.”