SUZUKA: Red Bull's Mark Webber swept to the quickest practice time at the Japanese Grand Prix Friday – but shrugged off Lewis Hamilton's predictions the team would dominate as mere “mind games”.
The 35-year-old Australian was two-tenths of a second faster in the second practice session than McLaren's departing ace Hamilton, who suggested Red Bull were looking like the form team around the Suzuka circuit.
“The Red Bulls are quick here – they are the team to beat this weekend,” said the Briton, who will leave for Mercedes next year.
Webber's team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who is gunning for his third straight title, placed third. But Webber said “little tricks” from Hamilton, whose team has won three of the last four races, simply wouldn't wash.
“If we go through the last five races, and see who has been on the front row,” Webber said. “I think he (Hamilton) knows the little tricks here and there in terms of mind games are not going to touch the sides with us, so we know we have got work to do.
“They have a strong car, as have we, but I don't think anyone is dominant at the moment -- certainly not us.”
Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, who announced his return to retirement on Thursday, escaped unhurt after a crash late in the session which mirrored an early mishap from Force India's Paul di Resta.
Di Resta's team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, impressed by securing fourth place, ahead of championship leader Fernando Alonso, who was fifth for Ferrari.
Frenchman Romain Grosjean was sixth for Lotus ahead of Jenson Button in the second McLaren. Button won the race last year and set the pace in Friday morning's opening practice session.
Brazilians Bruno Senna of Williams and Felipe Massa of Ferrari were eighth and ninth respectively ahead of Schumacher, 43.
Webber said he was satisfied with his efforts in fine conditions at the Japanese circuit. His team-mate Vettel is second in the standings, 29 points behind Alonso.
“I think it went pretty well for us. It is a great circuit for us to get a nice clean rhythm on in terms of dry weather – it is the first time it's been like that for a while,” Webber said.
“We've got plenty to go through, it was a pretty smooth Friday for us. I am pretty happy with it. We executed most of the runs we wanted to do plan wise.
“We went through everything we needed to, the car ran very well, reliably, did the test on both tyres and a normal Friday. We appear to be pretty strong at the moment.”
He confirmed that Red Bull had introduced upgrades on parts of the car this weekend, as they did in Singapore, in common with many other teams.
He said: “We are pushing hard, the factory is really, really on it.
“(It is) not a huge amount, it is detailing, understanding the bits from Singapore as well, and then circuit-specific stuff that we really need to put on the car to work around here and have confidence (in) around the whole lap.
“(It is) not too bad but we still have areas where we can improve, for sure.”
Webber clocked a best lap of one minute and 32.493 seconds as he outpaced Hamilton.
The drivers began the session on hard tyres but switched to softer tyres as a layer of rubber formed on the circuit.