Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel went quickest in opening practice for the Japanese Grand Prix, beating Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton by two tenths of a second. The session was interrupted, however, by a heavy crash involving Carlos Sainz.
Sainz’s smash came shortly after the midpoint of the session. The Toro Rosso driver ran wide on the entry to Turn 12, after the hairpin, and lost control of his car. The Spaniard spun across the track and arrowed nose first into the barriers, scattering debris across the surface. The session was immediately red-flagged as Sainz clambered out of the wreckage and marshals began clearing away the debris.
Sainz had already been dealt a blow with the news earlier in the day that changes to the power unit in his car would result in a 20-place grid drop on Sunday.
The session was restarted with just over 20 minutes left on the clock and Vettel and team-mate Räikkönen soon took to the track, on supersoft tyres. At that point Vettel was in P2, 0.042s behind Hamilton, but armed with the red-banded tyres he moved 0.211s ahead of the championship leader with a lap of Vettel’s best time of 1:29.166s.
The German’s place at the top of the order was confirmed when rain began to fall in the final minutes of the session, making any further improvement impossible.
Third place in the session was taken by Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian finished 0.375s shy of Vettel and a tenth ahead of Räikkönen, who was almost half a second adrift of the pace shown by team-mate Vettel.
Valtteri Bottas was fifth in the second Mercedes, though again the Finn struggled for pace compared to his team-mate. Bottas’ best lap was one of 1:30.151, 0.774s behind Hamilton. He was however the last man to get to within a second of Vettel. Max Verstappen finished sixth in the second Red Bull, though he was 1.5s off the Ferrari driver’s pace.
Esteban Ocon finished seventh, ahead of Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault, Romain Grosjean’s Haas and Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren.
2017 Japanese Grand Prix – Free Practice 1
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 23 1:29.166
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 29 1:29.377 0.211
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 27 1:29.541 0.375
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 22 1:29.638 0.472
5 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 30 1:30.151 0.985
6 Max Verstappen Red Bull 26 1:30.762 1.596
7 Esteban Ocon Force India 22 1:30.899 1.733
8 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 24 1:30.974 1.808
9 Romain Grosjean Haas 22 1:31.032 1.866
10 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 24 1:31.202 2.036
11 Kevin Magnussen Haas 15 1:31.216 2.050
12 Fernando Alonso McLaren 19 1:31.235 2.069
13 Sergio Perez Force India 23 1:31.530 2.364
14 Lance Stroll Williams 22 1:31.602 2.436
15 Jolyon Palmer Renault 22 1:31.757 2.591
16 Felipe Massa Williams 20 1:31.912 2.746
17 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 14 1:32.252 3.086
18 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 18 1:32.501 3.335
19 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber 29 1:32.897 3.731
20 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 28 1:33.397