Mercedes were not messing around in the first practice session as Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton pushed well clear of the chasing pack in Japan.
Bottas pumped in a 1:28.731 during his qualifying simulation run with Hamilton trailing just behind by 0.076 seconds; the Mercedes W10 looked particularly mighty in the first sector.
The nearest anyone else could get to the two Mercs was Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, but even he was 0.989s adrift.
Charles Leclerc, 1.181s slower, and Max Verstappen, a further two tenths back, were P4 and P5 respectively.
Saturday’s schedule may by completely cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis, but Friday’s action got underway as normal with FP1 at a dry, cloudy Suzuka circuit.
Well, it got underway for nearly everyone as McLaren’s Carlos Sainz came to a stop at the end of the pit lane just seconds into the session after becoming stuck in first gear due to an electronics issue.
15 minutes later into the session, Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi was forced to come back into the pits in fifth gear with a suspected hydraulics issue.
Back on track, it was Mercedes who were quickest in the opening stages as Hamilton led Bottas by 0.086s at the top of the standings with a 1:30.832.
Verstappen was a couple of tenths behind with Leclerc and Vettel three and four tenths slower respectively.
Super Formula and Super GT champion Naoki Yamamoto, taking the place of Pierre Gasly in FP1, spent the initial stages down in P18 behind the two Williams cars as he got to grips driving a Formula 1 car for the very first time.
During a hot lap, Bottas was forced to slam on the brakes to avoid tripping up over an idling Leclerc, while Hamilton could find no improvement overall on his first attempt.
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There was no such drama on Bottas’ second attempt as he eeked out an extra tenth to replace Hamilton in the P1 spot.
Ferrari were then the first to up the ante on the soft tyres with Vettel bringing the benchmark down to a 1:29.720 and Leclerc rising to P2, a shade under two tenths behind.
The Mercedes response was a pretty emphatic one: Hamilton nine tenths quicker than Vettel and Bottas 0.076 seconds quicker than his team-mate.
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:28.731 25
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.076s 24
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 0.989s 25
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1.181s 20
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1.315s 21
6 Alex Albon Red Bull 1.644s 23
7 Carlos Sainz McLaren 1.971s 20
8 Sergio Perez Racing Point 2.079s 21
9 Lance Stroll Racing Point 2.228s 26
10 Lando Norris McLaren 2.270s 24
11 Romain Grosjean Haas 2.552s 25
12 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 2.576s 27
13 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 2.695s 29
14 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 2.832s 24
15 Kevin Magnussen Haas 3.054s 21
16 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 3.189s 23
17 Naoki Yamamoto Toro Rosso 3.287s 29
18 George Russell Williams 4.069s 23
19 Robert Kubica Williams 4.753s 27
20 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 8.156s 4
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