SUZUKA, Japan, Oct 5, 2012 (AFP) - Red Bull's Mark Webber led the Japanese Grand Prix's closely fought second free practice session on Friday as retirement-bound Michael Schumacher escaped unhurt after a late crash.
The 35-year-old Australian clocked a best lap of one minute and 32.493 seconds as he outpaced nearest rival Lewis Hamilton of McLaren by two-tenths of a second.
Hamilton, who will leave McLaren for Mercedes next season, was sandwiched between Red Bull men as defending champion Sebastian Vettel was third fastest, a further tenth of a second adrift.
Another German, Nico Hulkenberg, also impressed by securing fourth place for the Force India team ahead of fifth-placed championship leader Spaniard Fernando Alonso of 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 seven-time world champion Schumacher, 43, who announced his return to retirement on Thursday.
Schumacher and Force India's Paul di Resta both came to grief but were uninjured in similar mishaps at the entry to the Spoon curve. Di Resta's mistake caused the session to be red-flagged after only six minutes.
"That was completely down to me," he explained. "I was a bit ambitious a bit too early. It's frustrating because I was six-tenths up and Kimi (Raikkonen) was in my way, but the responsibility was mine."
Schumacher's accident came in the closing minutes and did not delay the action. The drivers began the session on hard tyres but switched to softer tyres as rubber was laid down on the circuit.
The times for the session:
.1. Mark Webber (AUS/Reb Bull RB8) 1:32.493 .2. Lewis Hamilton (GBR/McLaren MP4-27) 1:32.707 .3. Sebastian Vettel (GER/Red Bull RB8) 1:32.836 .4. Niko Hülkenberg (GER/Force India VJM05) 1:32.987 .5. Fernando Alonso (ESP/Ferrari F2012) 1:33.093 .6. Romain Grosjean (FRA/Lotus E20) 1:33.107 .7. Jenson Button (GBR/McLaren MP4-27) 1:33.349 .8. Bruno Senna (BRA/Williams FW34) 1:33.499 .9. Felipe Massa (BRA/Ferrari F2012) 1:33.614 10. Michael Schumacher (GER/Mercedes F1 W03) 1:33.750 11. Nico Rosberg (GER/Mercedes F1 W03) 1:33.866 12. Sergio Pérez (MEX/Sauber C31) 1:33.903 13. Kamui Kobayashi (JPN/Sauber C31) 1:33.983 14. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/Lotus E20) 1:34.291 15. Pastor Maldonado (VEN/Williams FW34) 1:34.300 16. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Toro Rosso STR7) 1:34.863 17. Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA/Toro Rosso STR7) 1:35.080 18. Heikki Kovalainen (FIN/Caterham CT01) 1:35.711 19. Vitaly Petrov (RUS/Caterhan CT01) 1:35.870 20. Timo Glock (GER/Marussia MR01) 1:36.194 21. Charles Pic (FRA/Marussia MR01) 1:36.636 22. Pedro de la Rosa (ESP/HRT 112) 1:37.342 23. Narain Karthikeyan (IND/HRT 112) 1:37.701 24. Paul di Resta (GBR/Force India VJM05) No time