Despite the race start being threatened by Typhoon Phanfone, the first free practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix went ahead without a hitch. During the one and a half hour session, Nico Rosberg posted the fastest time after pushing Hamilton into second by 0.??? seconds.
Two weeks have past between the Singapore Grand Prix weekend and the Japanese Grand Prix. But this weekend, the situation in the championship is in vast contrast with Hamilton carrying the lead for the first time since Monaco.
But in FP1 it was not the Mercedes drivers the attention was on. Instead it was down at Toro Rosso with 17-year-old Max Verstappen. Verstappen was making his Grand Prix weekend debut for Toro Rosso ahead of racing for the team next year. Also participating in FP1 was Roberto Merhi, who replaced the Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi for the session.
Come 10AM local time, or 2AM in the UK, the green light at the end of the pit lane flicked on and the session was underway. Immediately drivers hit the track for the installation laps, with Ricciardo leading the field away.
Over the first twenty minutes most of the field only headed out for installation laps. But shortly after posting the first timed lap of the session, Merhi was facing the wrong way. The Caterham reserve driver made his way around Spoon before he found one of the slight damp patches following earlier rainfall causing him to spin on the run off. Now facing the wrong way, Merhi also sat on the racing line forcing Bottas to slam on the breaks in order to avoid the Caterham.
With the half hour mark falling, the track fell silent again with drivers sitting in the pits. A brief look at the time sheet would show the Mercedes duo in their familiar spots topping the leaderboard with Nico leading the way. However track grip was far from optimal.
When the drivers returned to the track on fresh tyres the times began to fall. Before the enforced tyre change Rosberg had sat on top with a 1:36:244 but with his new Pirelli’s found his way deep into the 1:35’s alongside Hamilton.
Fernando Alonso has shown some glimpses of being able to take the fight to the Mercedes in practice sessions of late, and today was no different with the Spaniard shadowing the Silver Arrows all morning.
One of the corners catching some drivers out this morning was Degner. The Degner curve marking the start of the second sector needs precision breaking from high speeds in order to make the tight corner. But for some they found themselves running out onto the run off on various occasions and for Hulkenberg his issues were at more than just Degner. Originally Hulkenberg twitched his Force India as he exited Spoon before going on to use the escape road at the chicane later in the lap. Then just minutes later found himself using the run off at Degner.
Other than Degner, Spoon continued to be a troublesome corner for many as they looked to find the best breaking point. Although this did cause some to run wide and use the run off at hand.
Entering the final minutes of the session, the order at the top of the time sheet remained the same with Rosberg leading. But for Formula One’s newcomer, Max Verstappen, his debut session came to an early end with seven minutes remaining when the engine failed. Coming to the end of the first sector Max felt a loss of power before spotting smoke coming out the rear. Staying calm, he radioed the team to check for advice before parking at turn 6.
Come the chequered flag to a somewhat uneventful first free practice session at the Japanese Grand Prix the Mercedes duo maintained their positions at the top with Alonso coming home in third. Bottas showed Williams may have a chance of good points this weekend, however this is still early stages and the real long run pace will be shown later today in the second free practice session.
The session proved not to be great for Red Bull with Ricciardo’s seventh the best the team could manage. Vettel ended the session in ninth place, over 2 seconds off the pace set by Rosberg and just under half a second faster than Verstappen.
|7||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:37.466||2.005||27|
|9||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:37.686||2.225||26|
|13||11||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||1:38.324||2.863||10|
|14||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1:38.582||3.121||9|