Rosberg ahead of Hamilton in FP1 at Suzuka


Nico Rosberg topped the first practice session at the Japanese Grand Prix ahead of Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton. Two weeks after his retirement in Singapore, Rosberg is keen to regain the championship lead this weekend and made a solid start with a time 0.151s faster than Hamilton. Fernando Alonso was third fastest, which has been a common sight in Friday practice sessions this year, but was 0.576s adrift as Mercedes look set to dominate again at Suzuka this weekend. The session marked the first outing at a grand prix weekend for Max Verstappen, who at 17 years old became the youngest driver to take part in an official practice session. He will drive full-time for Toro Rosso next season and impressed on his debut with a time 0.4s off his team-mate for next year Daniil Kvyat. However, his session ended early when his Renault engine coughed out a plume of smoke through the Esses and forced him to pull to the side of the track. Despite the tricky nature of the circuit and the proximity of the barriers, none of the drivers made serious mistakes, with Roberto Merhi and Esteban Gutierrez the only ones to cause a scare. Merhi, who replaced Kamui Kobayashi at Caterham in FP1, ran wide at Spoon and lost the rear of the car as he returned to the track. The spin itself was fairly innocuous but Valtteri Bottas was coming in the opposite direction and had to lock up a tyre and run wide in order to avoid the backwards-facing Caterham. Gutierrez ran wide and through the gravel at the first Degner but kept his Sauber away from the barrier. Bottas went on to set the fourth fastest time ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, Kevin Magnussen and Daniel Ricciardo. Past Suzuka winners Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel were eighth and ninth fastest ahead of Kvyat's Toro Rosso in tenth. The spread over the field was 6.296s as both Marussias appeared to struggle for pace in FP1. Will Stevens' debut in the Marussia will wait to another weekend after delayed contractual paperwork meant he was not able to take part in the session.