Nico Rosberg’s hopes of returning to the top of the Championship standings where given a boost on Friday morning when he was quickest at Suzuka.
The Mercedes driver hit the front of the timesheets on his very first run of the morning and never looked back.
Upping his pace with each run, Rosberg finished FP1 with a 1:35.461, putting him 0.151s ahead of his team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
It was a good result for the German as, last time out in Singapore, the seven-time grand prix winner lost the lead in the Championship when his car broke down.
Heading into Sunday’s Japanese GP, Rosberg trails Hamilton by three points.
While the Mercedes drivers tussled at the front, all eyes were on Max Verstappen as the 17-year-old made his first appearance at a grand prix weekend.
It was a solid first outing for the Dutchman who, despite having spent just eight months racing single-seaters, did not put a wheel wrong as he covered 22 laps.
However, in the end the car let him down and, with seven minutes remaining in the session, Verstappen parked the STR with an apparent engine failure and smoke pouring from the back.
He finished FP1 in 12th place with a 1:38.157, which was 2.696s slower than Rosberg’s P1 time. However, more importantly, it was just four-tenths short of team-mate Daniil Kvyat’s.
Back at the front, Fernando Alonso, who is discussing his future with Ferrari this weekend, was third quickest, 0.576s off the pace, while Valtteri Bottas was fourth for Williams.
Kmi Raikkonen, Kevin Magnussen, Daniel Ricciardo and Jenson Button completed the top eight.
As for Formula 1’s ban on driver coaching, Sergio Perez had the only notable moment of the session as he asked his engineer where he can pick up time only to be told “can’t tell you that right now – OK?”.
01 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:35.461 27 laps
02 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:35.612 +0.151 26 laps
03 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:36.037 +0.576 19 laps
04 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:36.576 +1.115 25 laps
05 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:37.187 +1.726 19 laps
06 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:37.327 +1.866 24 laps
07 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:37.466 +2.005 27 laps
08 Jenson Button McLaren 1:37.649 +2.188 24 laps
09 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:37.686 +2.225 26 laps
10 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:37.714 +2.253 26 laps
11 Felipe Massa Williams 1:38.012 +2.551 22 laps
12 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:38.157 +2.696 22 laps
13 Sergio Perez Force India 1:38.324 +2.863 10 laps
14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:38.582 +3.121 9 laps
15 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:38.851 +3.390 21 laps
16 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:39.046 +3.585 19 laps
17 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:39.097 +3.636 26 laps
18 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:39.318 +3.857 18 laps
19 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1:40.031 +4.570 18 laps
20 Roberto Merhi Caterham 1:41.472 +6.011 24 laps
21 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:41.580 +6.119 10 laps
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:41.757 +6.296 15 laps