The headline figures make it look like Red Bull might repeat its Suzuka qualifying form around the very different layout of Korea's Yeongam circuit, but in the race simulation runs of both McLaren and Ferrari there is real hope that Sunday could provide a much closer contest.
Even with the two events just seven days apart, Red Bull's development continues apace, with modified front brake ducts and further tweaks around the exhaust bodywork.
McLaren had just minor tweaks to its rear wing, while Ferrari continued to experiment with two of the rear wings used at Suzuka.
Regardless of the updates, the basic strengths and weaknesses of each car relative to the others were made unusually transparent by the three very different sectors of the Yeongam lap.
The first sector is essentially three straights punctuated by two slow corners, placing the emphasis on straightline performance, traction and KERS power. The Mercedes was consistently the fastest here, but of the front-running cars, the McLaren is best, just as it was last year.
The second sector, encompassing Turns 4 to 12, is very much the sort of high-speed aero territory where the Ferrari performs well, though it's well matched by both the Red Bull and McLaren.
The final sector is a street-circuit-like sequence of low-gear stop/start slow sections, and here the Red Bull reigns supreme.
Jenson Button was impressively fast on the softer tyre © XPB
Over a lap in low-fuel format, on super-soft tyres, that combination of strengths and weaknesses saw Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber heading the FP2 times. And by a margin of 0.3s over the closely-matched Ferrari and McLaren of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button respectively.
Into the long runs the numbers suggest Button has the best race pace on the supersofts. He and both Red Bulls did 11-12-lap runs, and taking out any baulked laps gives the following numbers:
Driver Average Best Degradation
Jenson Button 1m45.8s 1m44.95s 0.9s
Sebastian Vettel 1m46.2s 1m45.65s 1.2s
Mark Webber 1m46.6s 1m46.10s 0.8s
This paints a pretty good picture for Button - other than the fact that he probably wouldn't be able to use that advantage if he wasn't on the front row.
Comparable numbers are not available for Lewis Hamilton who suffered a disjointed session that included destroying a set of tyres after a heavy lock-up at the beginning of what was intended to be a long run.
"We made only a small set-up change between the session - a small change in rear ride height - yet the car was nowhere near as good in the second session," he reported. "But Jenson's showed that the pace is in the car and I'm sure we'll get it sorted."
It's been confirmed that his Suzuka problem was a failure within a rear damper.
The Ferraris showed good long-run pace too, with Fernando Alonso averaging 1m45.5s on the supersoft, Felipe Massa 1m45.7s on the soft. However, these were shorter runs than Red Bull's or McLaren's and came later in the session - giving them the advantage of the track becoming quicker.
It would appear that the Ferrari is at least competitive on race pace with its two rivals, but it's impossible to be more definitive than that. Massa looks in confident form, following up his Suzuka podium.
Felipe Massa looked confident following his Suzuka podium © XPB
At Lotus, Romain Grosjean did a nine-lap run that averaged 1m46.3s, while Kimi Raikkonen's best lap during a similar-duration run was on a par with Vettel's.
Only Raikkonen's car was using the new Coanda exhaust system, and tech director James Allison was expecting to continue with it into qualifying/the race.
The Mercedes show reasonable qualifying pace - around 0.5s off the front - but less promising long-run pace.
The Force India shows the opposite traits, while nothing of note had been seen from sometime front-runners Sauber and Williams by the end of Friday.
A miracle lap from Hamilton in a re-fettled car sounds like McLaren's best bet for splitting the Red Bulls. The car's more powerful KERS and promising long-run pace might then allow the team to make a race of it.
If we assume the Ferrari doesn't have quite the ultimate qualifying pace, its best chance may be to run close enough early enough to use stronger end-of-stint pace to be in a position to jump ahead at the one of what are expected to be two stops.
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