Lewis Hamilton edged team-mate Nico Rosberg by 0.330s in Friday's practice in Japan where three drivers failed to reach the chequered flag.
Pastor Maldonado set the early pace with a 1:36.1 before he was overhauled by Sergio Perez by 0.4s. However, the duo were both forced to back off when the yellow flags came out as Jules Bianchi crashed his Marussia at the second Degner after just eight laps.
Losing it when he hit the power for the second, he speered off the track and slammed almost nose first in the tyre barriers.
Bianchi was seen flexing his left hand in the immediate aftermath already replays showed he had removed his hands from the steering wheel before hitting.
Back in the action, Mark Webber hit the front with 1:35.208 while Kimi Raikkonen slotted into second place ahead of Perez and Nico Hulkenberg.
It was all change at the halfway stage as as Sebastian Vettel came out and jumped to second, 0.009s down his team-mate. Seconds later Felipe Massa went quickest ahead of the Bulls with a 1:35.126.
The arrival of the Mercs soon after again spiced things up as Nico Rosberg went quickest and then went on to lower the benchmark time to a 1:34.495. And despite Vettel's efforts it was Lewis Hamilton who finally dethroned Rosberg, beating his time by 0.244s.
The Brit continued lapping, lowering the P1 time on two occasions to get it down to a 1:34.157 and to increase his advantage over Rosberg to a 0.330s.
With 20 minutes remaining there were two separate incidents involving Pastor Maldonado and Giedo van der Garde. Maldonado, who had a spin, reported to his Williams team "I lost a wheel" - his left rear - and is told to pull off by the marshals while van der Garde lost it and landed up nose first in the barriers.
With drivers using used tyres in the final minutes there were no changes inside the top ten which ended with the Mercs ahead of the Bulls ahead of the Ferraris, the Lotus drivers and the McLaren duo.
01 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:34.157 18 laps
02 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:34.487 +0.330 19 laps
03 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:34.768 +0.611 24 laps
04 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:34.787 +0.630 19 laps
05 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:35.126 +0.969 14 laps
06 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:35.154 +0.997 16 laps
07 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:35.179 +1.022 15 laps
08 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:35.364 +1.207 17 laps
09 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:35.450 +1.293 26 laps
10 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:35.635 +1.478 19 laps
11 Jenson Button McLaren 1:35.868 +1.711 22 laps
12 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:35.900 +1.743 18 laps
13 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:36.066 +1.909 20 laps
14 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:36.165 +2.008 19 laps
15 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:36.178 +2.021 12 laps
16 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:36.340 +2.183 23 laps
17 Paul di Resta Force India 1:36.399 +2.242 18 laps
18 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:36.760 +2.603 22 laps
19 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1:37.595 +3.438 21 laps
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:37.629 +3.472 8 laps
21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:38.025 +3.868 15 laps
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:38.763 +4.606 18 laps
Friday's Pictures From Japan