Valtteri Bottas was fastest in the first practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix. The Finn edged out his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in by less than a ten, while Sebastian Vettel was third.
Conditions were warm and calm on Friday morning, Mercedes made by far the fastest start with Bottas and Hamilton one second clear of the chasing pack. Showing Mercedes have the pace, there was no sign of the impending Typhoon Hagibis which is due to move in overnight.
Hamilton set the early pace on the initial runs on mediums, posting a 30.832s, although by the halfway point of the session Bottas had moved to the front on a 30.524s. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel third fastest, finishing the session nine-tenths off the pace.
Testing what the Silver Arrows have described as “small” updates, including revised sidepods, the world champions were immediately on the pace on the medium tyre before switching to the quicker softs later in the session.
Vettel’s teammate Charles Leclerc was fourth two tenths off the pace but had a similar margin over Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. The Red Bull’s pace wasn’t as strong as Honda expected at their home race, with teammate Alex Albon three tenths slower in sixth.
McLaren emerged as the best of the rest, despite stopping on track Carlos Sainz went seventh ahead of the two Racing Points and his teammate Lando Norris.
But the gap between the top three teams and the midfield was not big, Sainz was almost two seconds off the pace. The Spaniard was just ahead of the two Racing Points, Sergio Perez eighth and Lance Stroll ninth.
Japanese Naoki Yamamoto was driving Gasly’s Toro Rosso on his first experience of F1 and was a creditable 17th fastest. Yamamoto was just a tenth off team-mate Daniil Kvyat but was running the soft tyre while the Russian was on the medium.
Romain Grosjean was eleventh fastest ahead of the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen and the two Renault’s of Nico Hulkenberg an Daniel Ricciardo. Followed by the two Toro Rossos, and Williams.
Qualifying will take place on Sunday morning, due to the impending Typhoon which is due to hit overnight.