FP1: Bottas leads Mercedes 1-2 in opening Suzuka session
In the calm before the storm at Suzuka it was Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas who went fastest in the first practice session, just 0.076s ahead of team mate Lewis Hamilton as the Ferraris followed. It was an all-important dry session as Saturday’s qualifying has been postponed to Sunday – and FP3 cancelled altogether.
The looming Typhoon Hagibis and its 150 mph winds mean that the circuit will be closed on Saturday, the decision having been made by the circuit and the Japanese Automobile Federation ahead of Friday’s running.
As a result, teams emerged as soon as the green light was given and it was the Mercedes pair who set the early pace on medium tyres, only for Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to take the lead on softs.
But Ferrari’s place at the top was short-lived, as the Silver Arrows donned softs with 25 minutes left and reclaimed their place at the top of the standings.
Bottas set the fastest lap of the session of 1m 28.731s, his team mate Hamilton following closely as they underlined the team’s dominance at this circuit that has led to five consecutive Japanese GP wins since 2014.
With a chance Mercedes could wrap up the constructors’ championship this weekend, the W10s were sporting new sidepod vanes, believed to be one of the last major updates they will make to the car in 2019.
Mercedes’ one-two left Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel 0.989s off in P3, just ahead of team mate Charles Leclerc – both of them spending the whole session on soft tyres. Of course, Leclerc’s run of four pole positions puts Ferrari in good standing for the postponed qualifying session.
After grid penalties left them starting at the back in Russia, the Red Bull pair of Max Verstappen and Alex Albon were prepped to deliver Honda a solid homecoming – but the former could only finish fifth, three tenths ahead of Albon but more than a second off top spot.
Carlos Sainz finished seventh but his session was compromised as his McLaren MCL34 stopped at Turn 1 at the very start of FP1. However, he returned soon after to continue his programme and narrowly lead Racing Point’s Sergio Perez.
Rounding out the top 10 was Perez’s team mate Lance Stroll, and McLaren rookie Lando Norris with a gap of 2.270s between him and leader Bottas.
Kimi Raikkonen was nonplussed about Alfa Romeo’s past few races approaching Japan, but he finished a respectable P12 – his team mate Antonio Giovinazzi not faring as well having stopped early on with a suspected hydraulics issue.
The Renault pair were relatively anonymous, Nico Hulkenberg finishing 13th and team mate Daniel Ricciardo 14th. The team brought a new front wing to Japan in a hope to close the gap to ‘best of the rest’ McLaren.
But it was Naoki Yamamoto who drew the crowds on Friday, the reigning Japanese Super Formula and Super GT champion having made his debut in an F1 car in place of Pierre Gasly. Yamamoto impressed as he finished 17th, just a hundredth behind team mate Daniil Kvyat in P16.