Lewis Hamilton headed team-mate Vattteri Bottas during the first practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, as the rain kept away from the circuit and the 2018 cars showed much improved pace at the high-speed, figure of eight Suzuka layout.
The championship leaders fastest lap was a 1.28.691s in his Mercedes on the soft compound tyres, with Valtteri Bottas just 0.446s adrift, despite being on the slowest, medium compound tyres. The Red Bull of Ricciardo slotted into third place after Vettel’s Ferrari was massively backed up by slow traffic towards the end of his flying lap.
Story of the session
The first practice session kicked off with dry and fair conditions at Suzuka, despite a 40% chance of rain throughout the session. However, there were still some damp patches still remaining.
Ricciardo was first man to set a representative lap, with a 1.30.651s in his Red Bull Formula 1 car – and easily disregarded Charles Leclerc’s initial lap time. He soon improved to a 1.30.312s, but Verstappen soon went fastest by 0.014s, with a 1.30.298s.
Red Bull, who were the only front-runners out on circuit early on, were joined by the Sauber drivers – but Ericsson’s latest lap was still some 1.7s off Red Bull’s best efforts. As the two Red Bull’s dueled, Ricciardo improved to a 1.30.030s – 0.268s faster than Verstappen’s first lap. As track conditions improved, the Red Bull drivers found more lap-time, as grip built, and Ricciardo was on the cusp of breaking the 90-minute barrier with a 1.30.030s, with his team-mate following his every move – and less than a tenth adrift.
Red Bull were joined by Ferrari and Mercedes. After a couple of reconnaissance laps and laps to build speed, Valtteri Bottas headed Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at the top of the order by 0.097s, however the Mercedes’ were on the harder and slower Formula 1 tyres. Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, was 0.173s adrift of his team-mate.
As Fernando Alonso headed out for his flyer, he clipped the grass on the way into degner 1, however incredibly kept it out of the walls and managed to rejoined.
The top-runners came out for their second runs, with Bottas easily improving his time to a 1.29.137s on the medium tyres, a 0.7s improvment in his Mercedes. However, Hamilton – who was on the softs – went fastest to set a 1.28.691s.
Vettel in the Ferrari was the next one to set a lap, on the softest, supersoft tyre who went fastest in sector 1, but got massively held up towards the end of his lap and went 0.9s down on Hamilton. Red Bull were late to come onto circuit for their second runs, with Ricciardo slotting into third slot, and 0.662s adrift of the lead Mercedes driver.