Less than seven days on from their 1-2 triumph at the Russian Grand Prix, the Mercedes Formula 1 team was back to its best in the opening practice session at the Suzuka Circuit in Japan.
Lewis Hamilton – victor here in three of the last four Grands Prix staged at this true ‘drivers’ circuit’ – once again showed that he meant business by posting the fastest time of Friday’s opening 90-minute session, almost half a second quicker than teammate Valtteri Bottas.
More worrying for its rivals was that neither Silver Arrows driver bothered to use any of their Supersoft tyre compound allocation, while both Ferrari drivers ran exclusively on the weekend’s softest available rubber and only just scraped inside of one second of Hamilton’s best time. Kimi Räikkönen narrowly upstaged his teammate and Hamilton’s sole championship rival Sebastian Vettel, although the German encountered traffic on his quickest laps and could well have gone faster with a clear lap.
Up at the front, Hamilton – who leads Vettel by a hefty 50 points in the Drivers’ Championship standings – looked serene, although the Englishman survive a close call with Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly. The Frenchman was trying to give himself enough clear track ahead of him before starting a flying lap, but was to learn that dawdling on the racing line in the braking zone for the Casio Triangle chicane is really not a smart place to be.
As Hamilton bore down on him at seemingly unabated speed, the championship leader managed to jink around the Toro Rosso at the last possible minute and slithered up the escape road. Gasly was summoned before the FIA Stewards and rightly handed a reprimand for his careless driving, his second such offence of the season.
Gasly also had his own trip through the grass during the session, while McLaren’s Fernando Alonso provided the most spectacular action with a wild spin through the gravel at the Degner curves when he dropped a wheel on the grass. The Spaniard was able to rejoin the action, but damaged his floor with his trip through the kitty litter.
The Red Bull Racing pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen sandwiched the two Ferraris in third and sixth respectively; the Australian outpaced his Dutch teammate – who celebrated his 21st birthday last weekend with a superb podium finish at Sochi – by the tune of almost half a second.
Leading the ‘best of the rest’ charge was Force India’s Esteban Ocon, who shaded his French countryman Romain Grosjean’s Haas Ferrari by two-tenths of a second. The ever-improving Saubers of Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson rounded out the top-ten.
|FORMULA 1 2018 HONDA JAPANESE GRAND PRIX – FREE PRACTICE SESSION 1 TIMES|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Time||Gap||Laps|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:28.691||25|
|2.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:29.137||+ 0.446||26|
|3.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||1:29.373||+ 0.682||32|
|4.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:29.627||+ 0.936||20|
|5.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:29.685||+ 0.994||20|
|6.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||1:29.841||+ 1.150||30|
|7.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:30.591||+ 1.900||28|
|8.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:30.814||+ 2.123||22|
|9.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:30.929||+ 2.238||27|
|10.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:31.073||+ 2.382||29|
|11.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:31.073||+ 2.382||20|
|12.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:31.100||+ 2.409||23|
|13.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:31.272||+ 2.581||29|
|14.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:31.274||+ 2.583||28|
|15.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:31.418||+ 2.727||18|
|16.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:31.508||+ 2.817||27|
|17.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:31.908||+ 3.217||23|
|18.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:32.034||+ 3.343||21|
|19.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:32.513||+ 3.822||26|
|20.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:32.683||+ 3.992||30|
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team