LEWIS Hamilton admitted that he learned “diddly-squat” from yesterday’s rain-hit practice for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.
Hamilton completed only 14 laps in the two 90-minute sessions as persistent rain wreaked havoc with the day’s schedule.
Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat ended the day at the top of the order ahead of the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Hamilton.
But, with the forecast expected to be dry for the remainder of the weekend, yesterday’s running, in front of the fanatical Japanese fans, will count as largely irrelevant.
“Have you heard of the term diddly-squat? That is exactly what it is today,” said Hamilton, when asked what he can draw upon from his limited running.
“There has not been much to learn. We learned it all in the last race here when it was raining, so it is irrelevant what we did today as it is going to be dry.
“You don’t want to take too may risks. There is no point damaging the car or the gearbox. But it is a shame for the fans because so many people have turned up today and they have been sitting in the rain and not seen many cars go round. It is boring for them.”
Hamilton and his Mercedes team, so dominant for the best part of two seasons, will be bidding to bounce back from their mysterious display in Singapore only a week ago.
The world champion, who had been expected to match Ayrton Senna’s record of eight consecutive pole positions, was a mighty 1.5 seconds slower than Sebastian Vettel in qualifying and then retired from the race after a small part broke on his engine.
“I don’t even know where we are so we will find out tomorrow,” Hamilton added. “It was slippery, wet, and aquaplaning and not particularly the most exciting conditions. Hopefully tomorrow will be dry.”
The sport of Formula One is back in Suzuka for the first time since Frenchman Jules Bianchi’s fatal crash.
And the miserable conditions here on Friday were eerily similar to those which saw Bianchi skid off the track and hit the side of a crane deployed to recover Adrian Sutil’s stricken Sauber one year ago.
Bianchi never regained consciousness after sustaining traumatic brain injuries and died nine months later on July 17.
Four-time world champion Vettel, winner last time out in Singapore, was among a host of drivers to fall foul of the slippery conditions after he ran off the track at turn one.
His Ferrari team-mate, Kimi Raikkonen, and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who was fourth, also endured hairy moments.
Hamilton will head into Sundays’ race with a 41-point margin over Rosberg. Vettel, fifth fastest in practice, is eight points further back.
McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale, meanwhile, has dropped the biggest hint yet that 2009 world champion Jenson Button will bring the curtain down on his Formula One career at the end of this season.
Button has so far remained tight-lipped on his plans beyond this year. Neale, however, speaking at Suzuka yesterday, claimed that McLaren want to retain Button but suggested that the Briton, a veteran of 16 seasons, is ready to retire.
“Jenson is a fantastic guy, a world champion and a big part of our family at Honda and McLaren for six seasons,” said Neale.
“We are contracted with him, we want him to stay and we like him very much, but if your driver doesn’t really want to be in the seat, we have to respect that. I really hope that we have done enough to keep him with us and that is what we would like.”
McLaren have an option on Button for next season, but that expires at the end of September and the growing feeling is that Button has become disillusioned with his team’s displays in a season in which he has scored only six points from 13 races.