Jenson Button once again set the pace in the second free practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka on Friday.
The McLaren man's best time of 1m31.901s was 0.174s quicker than Ferrari's Fernando Alonso. Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were only third and fourth fastest, but the duo's long-run pace on the softer option Pirelli tyres suggested that they may have an advantage when things get serious later in the weekend.
McLaren's drivers set the initial pace in the 90-minute session, following on from the team's strong showing in FP1, Button and Hamilton trading times at the top of the order. That dispute was settled in favour of Hamilton who set a 1m34.529s.
But that mark was only good until Alonso eclipsed it with a 1m33.848s lap, which itself got bumped when Webber set a new pace of 1m33.782s. Alonso then responded swiftly with a 1m33.503s.
That remained the benchmark for quite a while, with Red Bull's Webber 0.155s behind, as all the teams continued to work through their prime tyre programmes.
During this period Kamui Kobayashi had more than one small moment; Bruno Senna had a lucky moment when a spin resulted in no damage at Turn One; and Rubens Barrichello had more than a mere moment - instead thumping the barriers heavily at Degner One after getting on the grass on entry. The Brazilian climbed from his broken car unscathed.
Just before the hour mark, Barrichello's Williams team-mate Pastor Maldonado also parked his car at Degner One - but this time with a technical issue. That resultant yellow flag period scuppered several drivers' first soft tyre runs.
By that stage though Alonso had already improved his best to 1m32.075s. Webber had also gone quicker to keep the Ferrari man honest - just 0.072s between them - and also Jenson Button had got a lap in on the softs...
In fact not only had he done that, but his 1m31.901s was the fastest anyone would manage on those tyres as he once again went fastest.
No sooner had the yellows dispersed from Maldonado's problems and Jarno Trulli's trundling Lotus, than Kobayashi had yet another scare. This time it was a big one when he got completely sideways in the middle of 130R. The Japanese saved it, but it was close.
Back up to speed again and with 20 minutes to go Vettel improved to third ahead of team-mate Webber, making it four drivers covered by 0.25s at the time.
The front-runners all stuck on those tyres as they begun their soft tyre evaluations and it became clear that while McLaren and Ferrari were quick on the one-laps, the Red Bulls were cruising along in the high 1m37s often a second faster than the opposition. Ominous.
Behind the top four Felipe Massa was half a second off the pace ahead of Michael Schumacher in the quicker Mercedes. The seven-time champion was the last man within a second of Button.
Nico Rosberg in the other Mercedes was seventh with Hamilton, Vitaly Petrov and Sebastien Buemi completing the top ten.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps 1. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m31.901s 32 2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m32.075s + 0.174 33 3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m32.095s + 0.194 35 4. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m32.147s + 0.246 28 5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m32.448s + 0.547 34 6. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m32.710s + 0.809 26 7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m32.982s + 1.081 27 8. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m33.245s + 1.344 26 9. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m33.446s + 1.545 36 10. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m33.681s + 1.780 33 11. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m33.705s + 1.804 25 12. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m33.790s + 1.889 36 13. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m34.393s + 2.492 35 14. Bruno Senna Renault 1m34.557s + 2.656 27 15. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m34.601s + 2.700 33 16. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m36.038s + 4.137 33 17. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m36.225s + 4.324 35 18. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m37.123s + 5.222 14 19. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m37.440s + 5.539 30 20. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m38.093s + 6.192 30 21. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m38.387s + 6.486 16 22. Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth 1m38.763s + 6.862 36 23. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m39.800s + 7.899 24 24. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m42.480s + 10.579 4 All Timing Unofficial