Lewis Hamilton has set the early pace in practice for the Japanese Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton has set the pace in the opening practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix on Friday morning, marking the fourth Grand Prix in succession that the Englishman has topped the timesheets in the first practice session.

The Mercedes driver clocked a fastest time of 1:34.178, three-tenths of a second quicker than teammate Nico Rosberg, with the pair leading a team 1-2 on the timesheets.

Despite forecasted storms, weather conditions remained fine for the running of the 90-minute session. After the usual phase of installation laps and the subsequent lull of on-track running, it was the Red Bull Racing pair of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel who bit the bullet with the first competitive times of the session.

Ultimately, the duo were overhauled by the two works Mercedes runners of Hamilton and Rosberg, with the former progressively lowering his benchmark rime over his run to cement top spot.

Vettel overhauled Webber to claim third place, although the German had a potentially quicker lap ruined by Paul di Resta, who exited the pit lane right in the reigning champion’s path.

The Ferrari and Lotus pairings of Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Romain Grosjean and Kimi Räikkönen continued the ‘Noah’s Ark’ look on the timing screens by occupying fifth to eighth positions respectively, albeit about a second off Hamilton’s ultimate pace.

Sergio Pérez was next up in ninth in the McLaren, while a late flying lap from Daniel Ricciardo provied enough to get the Australian’s Toro Rosso tenth-fastest, while also denying Jenson Button from continuing the two-by-two formation on the stopwatch.

Maldonado loses a wheel van der Garde slides into the tyres

It was a surprisingly incident-packed session, with Pastor Maldonado, Giedo van der Garde and Jules Bianchi all forced to end their sessions early after separate incidents.

Maldonado’s progress was brought to a halt when his left-rear wheel parted company with the Williams at the Spoon Curve, while van der Garde and Bianchi both suffered separate crashes at Degner 2.

Bianchi buries his Marussia in the tyre barriers at Degner 2Bianchi’s accident was particularly heavy, with the Frenchman burying his Marussia into the tyre barriers in a high-speed shunt. The team has confirmed that his MR02 chassis is too badly damaged to allow him to participate in Friday’s second practice session, and with no assembled spare cars available under the current rules, the team will spend the rest of the day building up a spare chassis for him to resume running in tomorrow’s final practice session.

2013 Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix – Free Practice 1 Session Times:

Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1. Lewis Hamilton GBR Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W04 1:34.157   19
2. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W04 1:34.487 + 0.330 19
3. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Racing Renault RB9 1:34.768 + 0.611 24
4. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Racing Renault RB9 1:34.787 + 0.630 20
5. Felipe Massa BRA Scuderia Ferrari F138 1:35.126 + 0.969 14
6. Fernando Alonso ESP Scuderia Ferrari F138 1:35.154 + 0.997 16
7. Romain Grosjean FRA Lotus F1 Renault E21 1:35.179 + 1.022 15
8. Kimi Räikkönen FIN Lotus F1 Renault E21 1:35.364 + 1.207 17
9. Sergio Pérez MEX McLaren Mercedes MP4-28 1:35.450 + 1.293 27
10. Daniel Ricciardo AUS Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR8 1:35.635 + 1.478 19
11. Jenson Button GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-28 1:35.868 + 1.711 22
12. Nico Hülkenberg DEU Sauber Ferrari C32 1:35.900 + 1.743 18
13. Jean-Éric Vergne FRA Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR8 1:36.066 + 1.909 20
14. Adrian Sutil DEU Force India Mercedes VJM06 1:36.165 + 2.008 19
15. Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams Renault FW35 1:36.178 + 2.021 12
16. Valtteri Bottas FIN Williams Renault FW35 1:36.340 + 2.183 23
17. Paul di Resta GBR Force India Mercedes VJM06 1:36.399 + 2.242 18
18. Esteban Gutiérrez MEX Sauber Ferrari C32 1:36.760 + 2.603 22
19. Heikki Kovalainen FIN Caterham Renault CT03 1:37.595 + 3.438 22
20. Jules Bianchi FRA Marussia Cosworth MR02 1:37.629 + 3.472 8
21. Giedo van der Garde NED Caterham Renault CT03 1:38.025 + 3.868 15
22. Max Chilton GBR Marussia Cosworth MR02 1:38.763 + 4.606 18

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.