Lewis Hamilton led a Mercedes one-two in the opening practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix finishing half a second clear of team-mate Valtteri Bottas and almost seven tenths of a second ahead of the third-placed Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo.
Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen and championship challenger Sebastian Vettel finished the session in fourth and fifth places, but both set their best times using the supersoft Pirelli compound, while Hamilton session-best time of 1:28.691s was delivered on soft tyres. Vettel ended the session just under a second off his title rival.
Ricciardo and Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen took an early hold of the top spots on the timesheet, running on the soft tyre, but when Bottas moved from mediums to softs as the session approached the half way mark he put Mercedes on top with a time of 1:29.842s.
The Finn later improved to a time of 1:29.137s but that was soon bested by Hamilton who shot to the top of the order with his first flying lap on soft tyres.
Hamilton’s session was not without incident. The Briton was forced to take evasive action as he approached the final chicane when he unexpectedly came across the slow-moving Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly. The Frenchman had dropped his pace dramatically as he prepared for a flying lap but had stayed on the racing line. The Toro Rosso driver was checking in his mirrors but Hamilton’s approach was too quick and the Mercedes driver had to swerve dramatically at the last second to avoid Gasly a collision. The Toro Rosso man was later reprimanded by the stewards for ‘driving unnecessarily slowly and impeding car 44 in turn 16’.
Vettel, 0.994s behind Hamilton, was the last driver to finish within a second of the defending champion, with Verstappen taking sixth place 1.150s behind Hamilton.
Beyond the top three teams, Racing Point Force India’s Esteban was best of the rest, though the French driver ended the session 1.9s off the pace. Haas Romain Grosjean was eighth ahead of the Saubers of Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson.
At the other end of the order, Lando was the session’s slowest man, with the 2019 McLaren driver finishing 3.9s off the pace, as he stood in for regular race driver Stoffel Vandoorne.
2018 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix – Free Practice 1
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:28.691
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:29.137 0.446
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:29.373 0.682
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:29.627 0.936
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:29.685 0.994
6 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:29.841 1.150
7 Esteban Ocon Racing Point Force India 1:30.591 1.900
8 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:30.814 2.123
9 Charles Leclerc Sauber 1:30.929 2.238
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:31.073 2.382
11 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1:31.073 2.382
12 Carlos Sainz Jr. Renault 1:31.100 2.409
13 Sergio Perez Racing Point Force India 1:31.272 2.581
14 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:31.274 2.583
15 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1:31.418 2.727
16 Lance Stroll Williams Mercedes 1:31.508 2.817
17 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 1:31.908 3.217
18 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:32.034 3.343
19 Sergey Sirotkin Williams 1:32.513 3.822
20 Lando Norris McLaren 1:32.683 3.992