Rain halts Suzuka practice

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The Independent Online

Formula One leader Jenson Button spent more time sheltering in the garage than on track as heavy rain washed out much of today's Japanese Grand Prix practice.

McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen was fastest in a wet first session with heavier rain after lunch giving the ever patient Japanese fans little to watch other than streams of water running down the track.

Button, who can win the Formula One title with two races to spare on Sunday if he beats Brawn GP team mate Rubens Barrichello by five points, did not complete a timed lap in the afternoon.

He had been only 18th in the first practice and decided not to venture out for the second 90 minute session, at least an hour of which ticked past without any cars on track.

With rain falling and dark skies over the Honda-owned circuit, there was an unfamiliar look to the top of the timesheets in both sessions.

Japan's only regular race driver Kazuki Nakajima, still without a point after 14 races, had enjoyed a rare moment in the limelight when he led for Williams in the morning until toppled by Kovalainen in the closing minutes.

Force India's Adrian Sutil was third fastest in that session ahead of former team mate Giancarlo Fisichella in a Ferrari and Swiss rookie Sebastien Buemi for Toro Rosso.

Only Fisichella among the top five had previously raced a Formula One car at Suzuka, making its return to the calendar for the first time since 2006.

McLaren's world champion Lewis Hamilton, also making his first appearance at the track, was sixth.

Sutil topped the timing screens in the afternoon, with a best lap seven seconds slower than Kovalainen had managed earlier in the day.

Toyota's Timo Glock, second in Singapore last weekend, was unable to take part in practice after being laid low with a heavy cold and fever.

The German was replaced by Japanese reserve driver Kamui Kobayashi. He ended the first session ahead of Renault's French rookie Romain Grosjean after holding up well against Toyota's Jarno Trulli.