Mercedes 1-2 in FP1 at Japanese Grand Prix
A short trip and a few days after the Korean Grand Prix, Formula One returned to action at Suzuka. Despite the Japanese track offering a very different challenge to that faced at the KIC, it was once again Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton who went fastest in FP1, as the first eight places were taken two-by-two by the top four teams.
At the chequered flag, three-tenths of a second behind Hamilton, was team-mate Nico Rosberg, then came the Red Bull Racing pair of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber in third and fourth respectively. Felipe Massa was three-hundredths of a second faster than Fernando Alonso as Ferrari took fifth and sixth, while Lotus were seventh and eighth, Romain Grosjean two-tenths up on Kimi Räikkönen. Until the last few minutes it looked like McLaren would take ninth and tenth. Sergio Pérez was lying ninth but Daniel Ricciardo put his Toro Rosso into P10 in the last few seconds, displacing Jenson Button.
Going against type the session didn’t have its typically sedentary start: Webber was waiting at the end of the pitlane for the lights to turn green. The Australian shot out on track the moment the session went live – his urgency occasioned by the new chassis he has this weekend, a legacy of the heavy impact which ended his race in Korea.
Webber suffered no ill-effects on his installation lap and was followed around by the rest of the field. Then the track went quiet until Williams’ Pastor Maldonado set a benchmark time of 1:36.969 some 20 minutes into the session. There was a trickle of cars onto the circuit at this point and many of those sampling the conditions appeared to be struggling with balance. Jules Bianchi suffered more that that. The Marussia driver took too much of the inside kerb at Degner 2, slid across the track into the barriers, and the yellow flags were waved until his car was recovered. The impact was sufficiently hard to damage Bianchi’s chassis. He will miss FP2 while a spare is prepared and is expected to resume running on Saturday morning.
The half-hour mark signalled a general exodus from the garages. Webber went into P1 with Vettel slotting in just 0.009s behind, then Rosberg went quicker again. Hamilton was a few minutes behind his team-mate in the programme but he too rose to the top, taking P1 with 1:34.251, 35 minutes from the end of the session. He improved on that time in two subsequent laps, eventually finishing his run with 1:34.157.
While that was largely the end of movement on the leaderboard, it was not the end of the action. With 25 minutes remaining, two incidents on track saw more yellow flags waved. Giedo Van Der Garde put his Caterham into the wall at Degner in much the same spot as Bianchi, while Maldonado went off-track at Spoon and lost his left-rear wheel in the process.
The circuit returned to green status with around 15 minutes remaining and all 19 remaining runners returned to the track – but the established order at the top remained unchanged.