Japanese GP: Sainz tops his first practice session in a rain-soaked FP1

A damp start to the weekend sees Carlos Sainz top FP1 at the Japanese Grand Prix.

With a tropical cyclone hitting Japan and China, the Suzuka circuit was bathed in a fine mist of rain for the first practice session of the weekend at the Japanese Grand Prix. But with the rain and spray put aside, Carlos Sainz controlled the conditions to control the session with the fastest lap.

When the opening practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix engaged, the track was awash with water along with the occasional river popping up across the track. But the wet track and the spray created failed to prevent all drivers taking to the track in the opening half hour to test the waters and bed the cars in.

Unfortunately, the rain, spray and rivers that caused Rosberg’s tail to kick out, did prevent any times being posted, with drivers opting for exploratory laps to gain confidence and trips through the pits to carry out more practice starts in order to gain data should the race start be wet on Sunday.

Eventually however, after 53 minutes, the first times were posted thanks to the Toro Rosso boys with Verstappen and Sainz hitting the leaderboard with a 1:51.741 for Verstappen while Sainz’s time was two seconds slower. The gap however did decrease soon as Sainz improved to overturn the deficit and take the top spot as Vettel and Rosberg joined them in posting lap times.

Before Max posted the first time of the session, the team had been on the radio asking if he was happy to continue with the run or not on the full wet tyres. The fans at the track would have been grateful he said he was, as he found the grip levels available to him were enough to push hard.

Compare this to Valtteri Bottas as Williams’ Finn hit the track on the intermediate tyres and was treated to a handful car, unable to fully deal with the levels of water on track. Valtteri’s opening time saw him sit over four seconds off the time-topping Rosberg before going straight off at 130R after a mid-corner kick sent the car off course.

While Bottas and Massa stayed out on track with the intermediate tyres, Rosberg continued to lap on the full wets and show Williams they were on the wrong tyres as the German lowered his benchmark again to pull further away from the seven other drivers to set a time.

As the session entered the final twenty minutes, the intermediate tyres finally became the tyres to be on as the Toro Rosso lads once again topped the time sheet with Sainz leading Verstappen by half a second. Rosberg’s best time on the full wets also slipped down to third, with a six-tenths gap to Sainz.

Ten minutes later however, Mercedes were telling Lewis the rain was getting heavier again, shortly after he took to the track for his first run since the opening stages. This soon became more evident with Vettel suffering with his Ferrari snapping as it struggled to deal with the levels of water on track, with a lap one second slower than that of Sainz.

For Nasr, even the full wets were not any help as his Sauber became very loose through the Esses, right before he slightly beached it on the Spoon kerbs after running out wide, then out onto the run off and kissing the gravel.

As the chequered flag fell over the wet Suzuka circuit, Bottas had had enough and hit the pit lane for the last time in FP1. Kvyat meanwhile was still pounding out his final lap of the session and as the last man to set a time, moved into P2 and joined Rosberg as the only men within a second of table-topping Carlos Sainz.

Position Driver Gap
1 Sainz 1:49.434
2 Kvyat 0.504
3 Rosberg 0.643
4 Vettel 1.085
5 Hamilton 1.288
6 Verstappen 1.506
7 Raikkonen 1.778
8 Massa 2.854
9 Ericsson 4.386
10 Bottas 4.530
11 Nasr 4.579
12 Button 6.244
13 Ricciardo No time set
14 Hulkenberg No time set
15 Perez No time set
16 Alonso No time set
17 Maldonado No time set
18 Palmer No time set
19 Stevens No time set
20 Rossi No time set