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Button leads Hamilton in Suzuka practice

McLaren limbered up for the Japanese Grand Prix with Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton on top.

McLaren Mercedes' British driver Jenson Button (L) and McLaren Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton pose in the parc ferme at the Autodromo Nazionale circuit IN Monza, Italy, on September 8, 2012. Picture: AFP.

SUZUKA - McLaren limbered up for the Japanese Grand Prix weekend with Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton one-two at the top of the timesheets after Friday's first free practice in the Suzuka sunshine.

Button, last year's race winner who has a five place grid penalty for Sunday's 15th round of the season due to a gearbox change, lapped with a best time of one minute 34.507 seconds with Hamilton 0.233 slower.

Title contenders McLaren will be chasing a fifth successive pole position on Saturday, the team's best run of qualifying form since 1999 when Finland's Mika Hakkinen chalked up five in a row.

Australian Mark Webber was the third fastest for champions Red Bull around the classic figure-of-eight circuit in an incident-free session at one of the fastest and most demanding tracks.

Ferrari's championship leader Fernando Alonso, who is 29 points clear of Red Bull's double champion Sebastian Vettel, was only 11th.

The Spaniard has been a model of consistency, however, and Friday practice counts for little. He has sounded relaxed in talks with reporters.

"It's a little miracle that we are in first position," he said of the standings, referring to Ferrari's early season lack of pace.

"Now the car improves...so now we seem to be able to keep the distance with more optimism. We will see what happens from now to the end, if we can fight for the championship until the end.

"If we win it will be a miracle because I don't think we were fast enough to do it...we will do the maximum.

We did 14 more or less perfect races until now. What we cannot do is mistakes now in the last six."

Vettel was 17th in the session, with 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen 13th in the Lotus. The Finn is third overall despite not having won a race yet this year.

Seven times world champion Michael Schumacher, who announced his retirement on Thursday, was fifth for what will be his farewell to Japan and right behind Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg.

Rosberg, who will have Hamilton joining him at Mercedes next year, slowed and parked up at the side of the track two minutes from the end between turns three and four.

Local favourite Kamui Kobayashi was sixth fastest for Sauber.