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Red Bull's Webber sets the pace in Japan

Red Bull's Australian driver Mark Webber is currently fifth in the 2012 F1 world championship.

Story highlights

  • Mark Webber goes fastest in practice ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix
  • The Australian beats off competition from Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel
  • Current world championship leader Fernando Alonso is fifth fastest at Suzuka
  • Qualifying will take place on Saturday ahead of Sunday's race

Mark Webber set the fastest time in practice ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix as Red Bull dominated the session.

The Australian's time of one minute and 32.493 seconds was enough to see off McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, who was second fastest.

Webber's teammate and double world champion Sebastian Vettel completed the top three on a satisfying day for the Austrian-owned marque.

Seven-time world champion Schumacher to retire

"It was a nice change to get some good weather; it's been the first dry weekend for a while," Webber, who is currently fifth in the world championship 62 points behind leader Fernando Alonso, told F1's official website.

"It's a challenging venue in terms of balance here, but the car ran well and we tested both tyres. We have areas where we can improve, mostly with the balance, so we have some work to do."

Schumacher to retire from F1

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For 2008 world champion Hamilton, it was the first time he had taken to the track since announcing he will join McLaren for Mercedes at the end of the season.

"I have the coolest job! Suzuka is such a phenomenal circuit!" said the 27-year-old Hamilton. "The first lap out of the pits felt great.

"Just driving through the first couple of corners and feeling the acceleration, it takes a few laps to get warmed up, but you keep getting faster and faster as you push the limits.

"I feel comfortable with our car -- it's the best that it's ever been around here -- and I think I could have matched Mark's fastest time with an optimal lap. It's going to be very close in qualifying tomorrow."

Ferrari's Alonso could only manage fifth but the Spaniard was relatively satisfied with his team's showing ahead of qualifying on Saturday.

"Generally a positive day, during which we managed to get through everything on the program," said Alonso.

"It's hard to say precisely where we are: what is certain is that many of our rivals seem to be competitive, but as usual, we must wait until tomorrow to get a clearer picture of the situation."

Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher, who confirmed on Thursday he will retire at the end of the season, had a less successful day, crashing out after losing control of his car at the Spoon curve, hitting a tyre barrier.