SUZUKA, Japan, (Reuters) - McLaren duo Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso did not have as smooth an opening day of practice as they might have hoped on Friday ahead of their engine supplier Honda’s home Japanese Formula One Grand Prix.
The Spaniard, who placed ninth fastest in the opening 90 minutes before improving to eighth, described his day as tough after struggling to find the optimal set-up on his car to tackle the flowing twists of the Suzuka circuit.
“We are not yet happy with the set-up,” Alonso, who spun into the barriers early in the first session, told reporters.
“We need to keep working at it a little bit tonight.”
Last year’s Japanese race marked arguably the nadir of a bruising return to Formula One for the Japanese carmaker, who renewed a once-dominant partnership with Woking-based McLaren but struggled to adapt to the sport’s new turbo-hybrid rules.
The combination has made steady progress this year, however, and they go into their home race at the Suzuka track — owned by Honda — expecting to score decent points.
Alonso, running an updated engine he first tested in practice at the last race in Malaysia, doubted whether the team would be able to qualify in the top 10.
But the double champion expressed optimism they could still race well on Sunday and put in a good showing in front of the enthusiastic Japanese fans.
“They are everywhere supporting us,” said Alonso.
“They are very proud of Honda racing in Formula One and now achieving some good results, so we want to deliver the best results for them.”
Button, who has long been a darling of the Japanese fans, was only 13th and 16th fastest in the two sessions.
The Briton, making way for Belgian rookie Stoffel Vandoorne at the end of the season, is hoping to make the most of what could be his last appearance at Suzuka.
But the 2009 world champion was hampered by unusually high tyre degradation on Friday and is pinning his hopes for a strong result on rain, forecast to hit during either qualifying or the race. “I’d love it to rain,” Button said.
“It’s the only hope we’ve really got to have a mega result here.”
Editing by Ed Osmond