Lewis Hamilton tops opening practice in Japan, Sebastian Vettel struggles
Japanese Grand Prix - FP1

Lewis Hamilton tops opening practice in Japan, Sebastian Vettel struggles

04/10/2018

It looks as though Lewis Hamilton will once again be the man to beat after comfortably topping the opening practice session at the Japanese Grand Prix as title-rival Sebastian Vettel struggled for pace.

The Mercedes driver, who is looking for a fourth consecutive victory as he closes in on world championship number five, set a time of 1:28.691 on the soft tyre to put his name at the top of the timesheets in Suzuka. His lap was 0.446s quicker than teammate Valtteri Bottas in P2 using mediums while Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo finished the morning session with the third best time, albeit 0.692s down on Hamilton and using the faster super-soft tyre.

Despite running the super-soft tyre for much of the session, Ferrari did not have an answer for Mercedes' pace. Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel finished fourth and fifth respectively but both were almost a second down on Hamilton. Vettel came across traffic in the final chicane on his quick lap, costing him a chunk of time, but even with a clean lap it seems unlikely that he would have been able to match Hamilton. A lack of performance in Japan is the last thing Ferrari and Vettel could afford with both championships slipping out of their hands.

Max Verstappen finished sixth for Red Bull, 0.468s down on teammate Ricciardo while Force India's Esteban Ocon edged Romain Grosjean's Haas for P7. The Sauber pair of Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson rounded out the top ten.

With the threat of rain later in the day, it meant opening practice was busier than usual as teams looked to make the most of the dry but cool and overcast conditions.

Fernando Alonso endured the scariest moment of the session when he spun at Degner 1. The Spaniard put two of his McLaren's wheels on the grass upon entry which resulted in a lack of grip and a dramatic spin through the gravel trap. He returned to the pits with floor damage but was able to return to the track shortly after.

Hamilton also had a nervy moment when he very nearly collided into the back of Pierre Gasly on the entry into the final chicane. Gasly was sitting on the racing line, preparing for a flying lap as Hamilton came steaming up behind. He was forced to slam on the brakes and take evasive action down the escape road.

Gasly ended the session P11 ahead of Renault's Carlos Sainz and Force India's Sergio Perez. Kevin Magnussen struggled to match teammate Grosjean's pace and finished 14th, just ahead of Nico Hulkenberg's Renault and Lance Stroll's Williams. Brendon Hartley, who began the session with a new aerodynamic package on the rear of his Toro Rosso, set the 17th best time.

It was an ordinary morning for McLaren with Alonso finishing P18 and Lando Norris -- who was sitting in for Stoffel Vandoorne -- last of all. They were split by Sergey Sirotkin's Williams.

The second practice session in Japan gets underway at 2pm local time.

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