Sebastian Vettel shaded Mark Webber as Red Bull Racing dominated first practice at the Japanese Grand Prix.
The RBR team-mates were evenly matched, Vettel getting the nod by 0.048s, and only Renault’s Robert Kubica lapped within a second of them.
Meanwhile McLaren had a torrid first session, with both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button falling victim to the tricky Degner corner and Hamilton destroying his car’s left-front corner.
The 2008 world champion had set the benchmark time shortly before his accident, which occurred exactly halfway through the session, and only slipped as far as fifth in the remaining 45 minutes.
But the fact that he and team-mate Button lost control in near-identical fashion – their cars bottoming out over the bump in the 140mph first part of Degner, drawing them wide over the exit kerb and into trouble in the second part – will be a cause for concern at McLaren, which has brought a raft of updates to Suzuka.
Hamilton was unable to save his car and made heavy contact with the tyre barrier, leaving the badly mangled MP4-25 to be towed back to the pits on a tractor unit as he contemplated his third crash in as many events.
In his incident three minutes before the session ended, Button had a brief airborne moment and slewed across the gravel, but managed to wrestle his car to safety and continue slowly back to the pits having set only the 12th fastest time.
Kubica, in third place, was half a second adrift of the Red Bulls but a similar margin ahead of the rest of the field, headed by an impressive Adrian Sutil in the Force India.
Behind Hamilton came Williams duo Rubens Barrichello and Nico Hulkenberg in sixth and seventh places respectively, while Michael Schumacher was eighth – two places ahead of Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg – on his return to one of his favourite circuits.
Nick Heidfeld showed no signs of rustiness on his second outing with Sauber, going ninth quickest. Team-mate and crowd favourite Kamui Kobayashi was more spectacular, but slower, in 14th.
Ferrari had a low-key start to its weekend, with Felipe Massa and title contender Fernando Alonso sandwiching Button in 11th and 13th places.
Lotus’s Heikki Kovalainen was quickest of the new team runners in 19th, 0.4s ahead of Virgin standard-bearer Timo Glock, who spent the first hour in the garage.
The McLaren drivers provided the session’s most dramatic incidents, but Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso) also had a minor off at the hairpin and there were a couple of other close calls at Degner.
Sebastian Vettel increased his advantage over team-mate Mark Webber as Red Bull completed a clean sweep of practice one-twos at Suzuka on Friday afternoon.
The young German looked in imperious form and finished 0.4s clear of Webber, who was a further 0.3s quicker than Red Bull’s closest competitor, which again was Renault’s Robert Kubica.
After a quiet morning Ferrari moved up the timesheet to fourth and fifth places, title challenger Fernando Alonso heading Felipe Massa.
Jenson Button was sixth quickest for McLaren, but team-mate Lewis Hamilton had to miss most of the session while his McLaren mechanics finished rebuilding his car following his morning crash.
The 2008 world champion finally left the garage with nine minutes remaining and set the 13th best time having not done any low-fuel laps.
Japanese GP free practice session one times
1 VETTEL Red Bull 1m32.585s
2 WEBBER Red Bull 1m32.633s
3 KUBICA Renault 1m33.129s
4 SUTIL Force India 1m33.639s
5 HAMILTON McLaren 1m33.643s
6 BARRICHELLO Williams 1m33.677s
7 HULKENBERG Williams 1m33.707s
8 SCHUMACHER Mercedes 1m33.739s
9 HEIDFELD Sauber 1m33.791s
10 ROSBERG Mercedes 1m33.831s
11 MASSA Ferrari 1m33.929s
12 BUTTON McLaren 1m34.042s
13 ALONSO Ferrari 1m34.169s
14 KOBAYASHI Sauber 1m34.271s
15 PETROV Renault 1m34.373s
16 LIUZZI Force India 1m34.379s
17 BUEMI Toro Rosso 1m34.991s
18 ALGUERSUARI Toro Rosso 1m35.684s
19 KOVALAINEN Lotus 1m36.949s
20 GLOCK Virgin 1m37.329s
21 TRULLI Lotus 1m37.388s
22 D’AMBROSIO Virgin 1m37.778s
23 SENNA HRT 1m38.814s
24 YAMAMOTO HRT 1m39.443s
Japanese GP free practice session two times
1 VETTEL Red Bull 1m31.465s
2 WEBBER Red Bull 1m31.860s
3 KUBICA Renault 1m32.200s
4 ALONSO Ferrari 1m32.362s
5 MASSA Ferrari 1m32.519s
6 BUTTON McLaren 1m32.533s
7 PETROV Renault 1m32.703s
8 SCHUMACHER Mercedes 1m32.831s
9 SUTIL Force India 1m32.842s
10 HULKENBERG Williams 1m32.851s
11 ROSBERG Mercedes 1m32.880s
12 KOBAYASHI Sauber 1m33.471s
13 HAMILTON McLaren 1m33.481s
14 BARRICHELLO Williams 1m33.564s
15 HEIDFELD Sauber 1m33.697s
16 BUEMI Toro Rosso 1m34.005s
17 ALGUERSUARI Toro Rosso 1m34.055s
18 LIUZZI Force India 1m34.310s
19 KOVALAINEN Lotus 1m36.095s
20 TRULLI Lotus 1m36.333s
21 DI GRASSI Virgin 1m36.630s
22 GLOCK Virgin 1m36.834s
23 SENNA HRT 1m37.352s
24 YAMAMOTO HRT 1m37.831s