Mercedes finished a second clear of Ferrari in the first practice session of a disrupted race weekend at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Shortly before track running started on Friday morning Formula 1 announced it had cancelled all of Saturday’s action due to the imminent arrival of Typhoon Hagibis, with FP3 not taking place and qualifying being held on Sunday morning. With added importance on Friday’s track time, the top three teams all set their best laps on the soft compound tire and Valtteri Bottas led the way on a 1m28.731s.
While the gap to teammate Lewis Hamilton was only 0.076s, it was the advantage over Ferrari that was more eye-catching at this early stage of the weekend. Sebastian Vettel ended up in third place, but a little under a second off the pace. Bottas’ session was not without incident though, as he got close to a Ferrari at Spoon and had a big lock-up, while Hamilton also had a brake issue when his front right brake was on fire as he approached the final chicane.
Charles Leclerc was fourth on a 1m29.912s, a little over 0.1s ahead of Max Verstappen in the Red Bull — running new fuel from ExxonMobil that is expected to provide a power improvement — and Alexander Albon.
The session started in ominous fashion for Carls Sainz as he was walking back up the pit lane just a few minutes into running. Sainz lost power after carrying out a practice start when leaving the pits for the first time and the Virtual Safety Car was required as the McLaren was pushed back to the garage.
An electrical issue was found to be the cause with the team able to fix it in the garage and send Sainz back out on track within 40 minutes, and the Spaniard recovered to set the seventh-fastest time and complete more than 20 laps.
The Racing Point duo of Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll managed to split the two McLarens in eighth and ninth respectively, with their lap times all the more notable as they were the only two cars in the top 10 on the hard tire compound as opposed to the soft.
Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen were just outside the top 10, but Raikkonen’s teammate Antonio Giovinazzi had a tough session as he completed just four laps before being confined to the garage with a reliability issue. That issue meant he ended the session slower than the two Williams drivers, who were testing a new front wing concept during FP1.
There was an impressive F1 debut for Naoki Yamamoto, as the Honda driver gave Toro Rosso extensive feedback throughout a faultless session and ended up less than 0.1s behind teammate Daniil Kvyat, albeit on the soft compound compared to the medium.