Blue sky and sunshine bathed the iconic Suzuka circuit on Formula 1′s 29th visit to Japan. The opening practice session was an eventful one after a quiet start as drivers started their preparations for qualifying and the race.
Mark Webber was the first driver to take to the iconic Suzuka circuit during first practice for the Japanese Grand Prix. Webber, who was sporting a new chassis after his previous one was damaged in Korea, was joined shortly after by Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Bianchi as drivers got their installation laps in early.
The majority of drivers returned to the pit lane to prepare for their next runs but Raikkonen and the Toro Rosso drivers continued on for a second lap. After that brief flurry of activity, the track descended into silence once again before the main running kicked off.
Pastor Maldonado halted the silence and was the first driver to set a lap time during the session. His first time of 1m36.969 was set on the hard compound Pirelli tyres and he was soon joined on the timing screens by Jules Bianchi and Sergio Perez.
However the yellow flags were soon flying thanks to the Marussia of Bianchi after he clattered into the barriers at the exit of turn nine, the second Degner Curve. The back end stepped out on the exit and as he tried to correct it, he travelled across the gravel and into the tyre wall. He gave his mechanics plenty of work to do ahead of the second practice session and lost an hour of running because of the crash – a few corners earlier Bianchi had attempted to warm his tyres and picked up some dirt as he ventured beyond the extremities of the track.
The yellow flags disappeared and the on-track action began to heat up with the likes of Webber, Kovalainen – who replaced Charles Pic at Caterham for the first session – and Ricciardo emerging to set their first timed laps.
At the half way point of the session it was Mark Webber who topped the time sheets on a 1m35.208, one tenth faster than the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen. However the Finn was displaced in second by triple world champion Sebastian Vettel who missed out on the top spot by just 0.009 seconds, despite a rare lock-up at turn 11.
Massa and Vettel held the top spot before Rosberg bettered them both with a 1m34.495. That time was one tenth faster than the top time from first practice for the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix. Hamilton had been garage-bound early on with his mechanics working at the rear of his Mercedes W04. However, he managed to emerge out on track with half of the session remaining and moved ahead of his team-mate shortly after.
Drivers were disrupted from their second runs after the yellow flags reappeared. This was due to Pastor Maldonado shedding a left-rear wheel on his out lap at the Spoon Curve. Meanwhile at the same time, Giedo van der Garde locked up into the second Degner Curve and tapped the barrier.
With the chequered flag looming in the distance, drivers continued to lap the Suzuka circuit on the hard compound tyre. Long runs were on the agenda for all 19 of the drivers out on track. However they were still pushing hard with Webber and Rosberg taking to the run-off areas at turns 13 and 16 respectively.
The session came to a close and it was Lewis Hamilton who led the way in first practice with a best time of 1m34.157, three tenths faster than Nico Rosberg in the sister Mercedes W04. Vettel and Webber both finished six tenths down on the Brit with Felipe Massa rounding out the top five and finishing ahead of team-mate Fernando Alonso.
Grosjean and Raikkonen finished in seventh and eighth, just ahead of Perez and Ricciardo. Button was just outside the top 10 and was trailed by Hulkenberg, Vergne and Adrian Sutil.
Maldonado remained in 14th despite pulling off to the side of the circuit mid-way through the session. Bottas, di Resta and Gutierrez completed the midfield runners with Kovalainen leading the battle at the back, 3.4 seconds off the front running pace and narrowly ahead of Bianchi, van der Garde and Chilton.
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