The stage is set for another Red Bull/McLaren showdown in Japan, as Mark Webber beat Lewis Hamilton to the fastest time in the second free practice session at Suzuka on Friday.
Webber's best time of 1m32.493s lap was 0.214sec faster than Hamilton could manage, with the Mercedes-bound Briton sandwiched between the two Red Bulls. Sebastian Vettel was third, a further tenth back.
Nico Hulkenberg impressed once again for Force India, going fourth fastest, ahead of world championship leader Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean.
Last year's winner and Friday morning's pace-setter Jenson Button was seventh quickest, in front of Williams man Bruno Senna, Felipe Massa (who sparingly used the asphalt at Degner through the session) and Michael Schumacher– who crashed, but was unharmed, late in the session.
Grosjean was the first man to set down a marker, almost as soon as the green lights illuminated, with a 1m34.514s lap in the Lotus. But with only six minutes in the books, the session was stopped as Paul di Resta put his Force India's two right wheels on the dirt on the entry to Spoon curve. The car then snapped around rapidly and he spun sideways into the barriers. The Scot was undamaged, the Force India less so.
"Completely down to me," he explained. "A bit ambitious a bit too early. Frustrating because I was six tenths up and Kimi [Raikkonen] was in my way, but the responsibility was mine."
Once the cars were back on track it was Alonso who shot to the top of the times with a 1m34.287s, which lowered the benchmark for the weekend so far. That was never likely to last long though and Hamilton might have improved on it momentarily had he not locked up on the entry to the chicane.
While those two were squabbling, it was Button that whizzed to the front with a 1m34.150s, with Webber suddenly second on a 1m34.188s. Grosjean then had another crack at it and would have easily gone fastest but for one of his now customary entertainingly wild moments, this time at the chicane.
As the session moved past the half-hour mark Vettel emerged on track, and impressively moved the hard tire benchmark on with two laps that were faster than anyone had gone thus far, his best a 1m33.961s. It was about that time that people started trying out Pirelli's softs.
Kobayashi was first to give them a go and went second quickest, within a hundredth of Vettel. But as more people switched to the soft tire that duo rapidly dropped down the order, as first Button moved ahead, and then again Grosjean proved quick on a 1m33.107s.
Then it was Vettel's turn to give the yellow-monikered rubber a try and the World Champion instantly went quicker still with a 1m32.826s. Hamilton's attempt was even better, but none were as fast as Webber, whose 1m32.493s would remain uncontested to the end.
It was an eventful session for several of the drivers. Kimi Raikkonen spent much of the afternoon in the pits after his KERS battery overheated, began leaking and forced all the Lotus personnel in to rubber gear for safety reasons. Nico Rosberg required an engine change over the break after his car had ground to halt in the morning session, and Mercedes teammate Schumacher was subject to a significant suspension change as the squad analyzed some potential future tweaks. The retiring legend then crashed at Spoon in a carbon copy of di Resta's previous indiscretion, though this time the race direction decided against a red flag.
The last 10 minutes of the session were devoted to long runs on the soft tire, and unsurprisingly it was the McLarens and the Red Bulls that most consistently ran in the 1m39s.
The final twist in the session was the sight of Vitaly Petrov's Caterham parked in the Turn 1 gravel having apparently shed its rear wing on the straight, moments before the flag fell.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m32.493 34
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m32.707s + 0.214 32
3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m32.836s + 0.343 37
4. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m32.987s + 0.494 30
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m33.093s + 0.600 28
6. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m33.107s + 0.614 35
7. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m33.349s + 0.856 22
8. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m33.499s + 1.006 35
9. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m33.614s + 1.121 32
10. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m33.750s + 1.257 13
11. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m33.866s + 1.373 19
12. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m33.903s + 1.410 36
13. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m33.9$3s + 1.490 33
14. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m34.291s + 1.798 12
15. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m34.300s + 1.807 33
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m34.863s + 2.370 32
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m35.080s + 2.587 34
18. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m35.711s + 3.218 41
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m35.870s + 3.377 37
20. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m36.194s + 3.701 32
21. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m36.636s + 4.143 28
22. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m37.342s + 4.849 30
23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m37.701s + 5.208 35
24. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes No time 2
All Timing Unofficial