Button sets the pace in Japanese GP practice

McLaren ace sets the pace ahead of Red Bull world champ at Japanese GP practice 

Jenson Button showed he will make Sebastian Vettel sweat for his second world championship as the Briton topped the timesheets in both practice sessions at the Japanese Grand Prix on Friday. The 31-year-old McLaren driver, after leading morning practice, set his benchmark time of 1min 31.901secs with 31 minutes remaining in the 90-minute afternoon session at a sunny but windy Suzuka.

Fast car: McLaren-Mercedes' Jenson Button during yesterday's
Japanese GP practice session in Suzuka. Pic/AFP

Button, the 2009 world champion, is 124 points adrift of Red Bull's Vettel, meaning he has to win all five remaining races -- and needs Vettel to finish no better than 11th in every race -- to deny the German back-to-back titles. Vettel, who crashed out in the final stages of the morning session, was third in afternoon practice, 0.194secs off top spot. He needs only one point to seal the world driver's crown. The 24-year-old said the crash was a timely reminder to retain focus.

Vettel crashes
"I think it was not really a big mistake. Maybe at that moment I was not 100 percent awake, and mistakes around here can be quite costly," said Vettel. "I went off and tried to slow the car down as much as possible, but didn't make it and hit the wall slightly. I had a good reminder not to start thinking about something else."
The German said his afternoon session was slightly compromised by the shunt, but was happy with narrowing the gap to Button.

Button said despite heading the timesheets, McLaren still needed to search for more pace in Japan.
"I'm pretty happy with today, but we need to improve a lot more to really feel confident that we could really challenge the Red Bulls," he said.  "I don't think we're the quickest still -- on long runs, we still have a bit of work to do to challenge the Red Bulls -- but we have a good base," he said.

Button feels Red Bull -- and particularly Vettel -- still hold the edge with heavy fuel in the cars. Splitting the only two men in mathematical contention for the title was Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who finished 0.174secs behind Button's session-best time for Ferrari.

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