Lewis Hamilton was fastest in first practice for this weekend Japanese Grand Prix. The Englishman headed a Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas by four-tenths of a second on the mediums and was over half a second faster than the Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Hamilton knows that the high speed following nature of Suzuka means that his Mercedes team are the favourites. Ricciardo set the early pace, but settled for third, going ahead of the Ferrari’s of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
Hamilton, initially running the medium before switching to the softs, was immediately on the pace. although suffered a scare at the chicane when he had to take swift evasive action to avoid crashing into a dawdling Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly.
Hamilton’s German rival Vettel appeared to struggle around the circuit and was held up on his quick lap by traffic. That cost him time and even on a clean lap, he struggled to find the performance. Going into this weekend it is being seen as make or break for the four times champions hopes of beating Hamilton to a fifth title.
Force India’s Esteban Ocon was best of the rest going seventh fastest, the Frenchman was three-quarters of a second off the pace of Verstappen. But the British team appears to have the slight edge over their midfield rivals on the slower compound of tyres.
Despite setting his time on the slower compound of tyre, Ocon was two tenths faster than the Sauber’s of Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson. Pierre Gasly missed out on a place in the top ten by a thousandth off a second, matching the Swedes time.
There appears to be very little between the midfield group at this early stage of the weekend.
As ever Suzuka remains one of the biggest challenges for drivers, Fernando Alonso was the first casualty of the weekend. The Spaniard put one of his wheels onto the grass, before going into a spin at the first Degner.
The Spaniard managed to avoid both the barriers and getting his car beached in the gravel, although still finished only eighteenth quickest. His replacement for 2019 Lando Norris, appeared to struggle and was twentieth.
Kevin Magnussen struggled to match teammate Grosjean’s pace and finished fourteenth, just ahead of Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault and Lance Stroll’s Williams. Brendon Hartley, who began the session with a new aerodynamic package on the rear of his Toro Rosso, was seventeenth.