Red Bull's Mark Webber blasted Lewis Hamilton's "mind games" after leading practice at the Japanese Grand Prix Friday, while Formula One great Michael Schumacher crashed heavily one day after announcing his retirement.
At the Suzuka circuit, Webber, 35, timed two-tenths of a second quicker than Hamilton, who later suggested Red Bull were the team to beat. Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel was third fastest with Force India's Nico Hulkenberg fourth and Fernando Alonso fifth.
But the redoubtable Webber said the Hamilton's comments were an attempt to play "tricks" with Red Bull -- and insisted it simply wouldn't work.
"If we go through the last (few) races, and see who has been on the front row," Webber said, referring to McLaren's four straight pole positions.
"I think he (Hamilton) knows the little tricks here and there in terms of mind games are not going to touch the sides with us, so we know we have got work to do.
"They have a strong car, as have we, but I don't think anyone is dominant at the moment -- certainly not us."
With six races left, Vettel is trying to chase down Ferrari's championship leader Alonso for his third straight world title, while Hamilton, who is set to depart McLaren for Mercedes, is an outside chance at best despite winning two of the last four races.
Romain Grosjean was sixth for Lotus ahead of McLaren's Jenson Button, last year's winner who set the pace in the first practice session. Bruno Senna of Williams and Felipe Massa of Ferrari were eighth and ninth respectively, ahead of Schumacher.
The veteran Schumacher provided fireworks at the climax of the first day's action when he misjudged the Spoon curve, slid and ploughed into the barriers, losing his front wing. However, he emerged unhurt.
It was a tough start to the weekend for the 43-year-old German, owner of a record seven world titles, who said he would return to retirement at the end of a season after a three-year comeback which yielded just one podium spot.
The Mercedes driver, ousted by Hamilton's arrival next year, will also start Sunday's race with a 10-place grid penalty imposed after he dramatically rear-ended Jean-Eric Vergne's Toro Rosso two weeks ago in Singapore.
"The main response I want to show is on track with a good result, but we didn't have a good Friday with the little mistake on the entry of turn 13 and mainly we didn't get the hang of the track with the car. I hope that's better tomorrow," Schumacher said.
Hamilton warned that the crash by Schumacher, and a similar mishap earlier involving Force India's Paul di Resta, showed the dangers that lurk on the fast-flowing Suzuka track.
"You need to be careful. At Spoon we saw a few people making mistakes today. If you put a wheel on the dirt, it's very easy to lose the car," Hamilton said.
"As always, we'll be fine-tuning the car tonight ahead of tomorrow's sessions, but it looks very close between ourselves and Red Bull.
"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 (Webber) fastest time with an optimal lap. It's going to be very close in qualifying tomorrow."
His team-mate Button also said his McLaren was performing well, and predicted a tight qualifying session on Saturday.
"Overall, the car is working well here. Qualifying will be very competitive, but I think we'll be up there," said the Briton.
Webber also said he was satisfied with his efforts in clocking a best lap of one minute and 32.493 seconds in fine conditions at the Japanese circuit. His team-mate Vettel is second in the standings, 29 points behind Alonso.
"We went through everything we needed to, the car ran very well, reliably, did the test on both tyres and a normal Friday. We appear to be pretty strong at the moment," said the Australian.