Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel edged out his title rival Lewis Hamilton in first practice for this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix by two-tenths of a second. Like in Sepang last week, Ferrari has set the ball rolling with leading the pace on Friday morning.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was their fastest a further tenth behind Vettel. The tightest between the top three suggests that Mercedes have solved their performance issues which affected them in the early stages of last weekend and Ferrari have solved their reliability problems which affected them going into qualifying and the race.
Ricciardo was third ahead of Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, with half a second covering the top four teams. The Australian set the pace early on, with a 1:30 then bettered that by half a second, but then Hamilton shaved a few tenths off before Vettel went faster after taking a few tenths off.
Mercedes Valtteri Bottas was just under a second off the pace and was six tenths faster than Max Verstappen’s Red Bull. However, both drivers suffered offs with the Finn going off at Turn One and Degner, while the Dutchman went off at Spoon.
However it wasn’t long until Suzuka claimed its first casualty of the weekend as Carlos Sainz crashed bringing out the red flag. The Spaniard got on the astro on the exit of the hairpin which sent him into a spin and saw him make contact with the barriers.
Sainz was due to start at the back anyway thanks to a number of engine component changes
Esteban Ocon was seventh fastest in the Force India, heading what has become a very tight midfield. He was a few tenths faster than the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg, Haas’s Romain Grosjean with McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne in tenth.
Grosjean’s team-mate Kevin Magnussen was eleventh fastest in between both the McLaren’s, however it wasn’t plain sailing for the Dane. He was forced to spend most of the early part of the session in the garage because of a water pressure problem.
Ahead of the final home race for McLaren’s relationship with Honda Stoffel Vandoorne was tenth and Fernando Alonso twelfth.
It looks as if it could be another tough weekend for Williams, as both their drivers were in the mid of the lower end of the times. Lance Stroll was fourteenth and Felipe Massa sixteenth, with the Renault of Jolyon Palmer in between them.
The Toro Rosso’s of Carlos Sainz seventeenth ahead of team-mate Pierre Gasly with the Sauber’s rounding out the field, Pascal Wehrlein ahead of Marcus Ericsson.