Still riding the crest of a wave from his first grand prix victory in more than a year in Singapore's inaugural night race a fortnight ago, Fernando Alonso hinted at upsetting the form book once again in practice for the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway this weekend.
After lapping a competitive fifth-quickest in the morning running – behind only the McLaren-Mercedes' and Ferraris – the Spaniard moved up to second place later on, less than a tenth shy of pace-setter Timo Glock and clearly determined to avenge the memory of last year's race, when in crashing out in heavy rain Alonso almost certainly dealt the fatal blow to his chances of making it three Formula 1 World Championships in a row.
“It was a trouble-free day,” the 27-year-old reflected. “We covered lots of laps, which was the priority, and that allowed us to advance with our programme. The first signs are therefore encouraging, and we will now review our data and work on our settings ahead of the final free practice session tomorrow morning to be ready for qualifying.”
Under-fire rookie team-mate Nelsinho Piquet backed Alonso up well with the sixth-fastest time in the morning, though the Brazilian would slip back to twelfth spot at the close of proceedings, albeit only just over four tenths shy of the sister R28 as the top 17 drivers all proved to be blanketed by less than a second.
“The circuit is interesting, not particularly difficult, and I was able to get comfortable with it quite quickly,” the Fuji virgin related. “We have made good progress with our technical programme today, and although we still have a lot to do from now until tomorrow, it's definitely a good start and a sound basis to work from for the rest of the weekend.”
Not only does Renault arrive in Japan on the back of its stunning Singapore success, but it also approaches the weekend in the knowledge that this time twelve months ago, Heikki Kovalainen registered the Régie's
best result of the 2007 campaign with a battling second place finish to current McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
Whilst that race was held in torrential conditions, the Enstone-based outfit's executive director of engineering Pat Symonds confessed that it had been good to get some dry running under their belts second time around. With Alonso and Piquet having covered 149 laps of the 4.5km layout between them, the Englishman remained hopeful of further extending Renault's advantage over chief rivals Toyota in the keenly-contested squabble for fourth spot in the constructors' standings come race day.
“With limited running last year in dry conditions, we really approached today as if Fuji was a brand new circuit,” Symonds acknowledged. “Our main focus as always was to sort out the tyres and we feel happy with the result. Our balance is reasonable, and all-in-all it was a good day for us.”
“Today we worked on the usual things that we look at on the Friday of a grand prix weekend – tyres, the behaviour of the car with different fuel loads, gear ratios and cooling,” added Renault's head of engine track operations Denis Chevrier. “The day went smoothly without any major issues, and we made the most of the good track conditions.
“It's still difficult to judge the hierarchy after the first couple of sessions, but today's results suggest we can have reasonable hopes for the rest of the weekend.”