Jenson Button led a McLaren 1-2 in first practice for the Japanese Grand Prix, while World Champion-in-waiting Sebastian Vettel ended his session in the barriers at Degner Two.
The German, who was third fastest in the session, ran wide on his final attempt at Degner One, which meant he didn't have enough braking potential to stop his Red Bull hitting the barriers gently at the following corner. The most damage done was probably to the German's pride, however.
The recently re-signed Button was quickest for much of the session and emphasized it by setting his best lap on his final attempt with a 1m33.634s.
He outpaced his team-mate Lewis Hamilton by 0.091sec to establish the team at the head of the pack in front of Vettel, with Fernando Alonso fourth and Mark Webber fifth quickest, in what was, until the final moments at least, a relatively uneventful session.
Timo Glock led the cars out on to the very dusty Suzuka asphalt at the beginning of the 90 minute practice, but it was Narian Karthikeyan who set the first timed lap of the day with a 1m49.408s, some 25 minutes into the running. That effort lasted seconds at the top of the times though as HRT team-mate Daniel Ricciardo shaved six seconds off the Indian's mark. The pair then began trading times for a while, until home hero Kamui Kobayashi joined the fray.
The Japanese Sauber driver then very quickly established himself at the top, to the delight of the crowd, with a sequence of laps that resulted in a 1m37.760s with the Swiss team's heavily updated car.
It was 40 minutes before the big players emerged from the pits and Alonso was the first to fire in a fast time - 1m35.181s. That was quickly eclipsed by Hamilton's 1m34.937s, but the Ferrari man was back on top again the next time around with a 1m34.372s. Not to be outdone, Hamilton then posted a 1m33.725s to go six tenths clear at the top.
Emphasizing McLaren's pace, Button then posted a 1m33.648s to lower the mark further and bump his team-mate to second.
It was around this time that Pastor Maldonado ran wide toward the end of the Esses sequence of corners before thumping across the grass at high speed and re-emerging on the track right in front of Red Bull's Mark Webber. The Williams man pulled off the track not long after.
Vettel emerged from the pits just after the halfway mark for an eight-lap run. But his fastest effort – at the end of that sequence of laps – was spoiled by a huge bite of opposite lock while on the power out of the chicane. Still the Red Bull man's efforts were good enough for fourth at this stage, behind the McLarens and Alonso, and ahead of Webber in the sister RB7.
With half an hour of the session to go, Button emerged from the pits once more, the McLarens still holding sway at the top of the times, and looked all set to improve his time further before locking up at the hairpin. Vettel had another crack at it with 20 minutes to go, but could only manage a lap good enough for third, jumping ahead of Alonso who was also on track at the time doing an evaluation run.
The German was back out again in the final ten minutes, as were most of the field, but by this stage their prime tires were well used and Button remained unchallenged at the top, and the scene looked well set until that final flurry of activity.
Behind the top five, Jaime Alguersuari made a good account of himself once again in sixth position for Toro Rosso, ahead of Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari, Sebastien Buemi in the sister Toro Rosso, Michael Schumacher and Vitaly Petrov who completed the top 10.