Hamilton and Mercedes top first free practice at Suzuka

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Lewis Hamilton topped the first free practice session of the Japanese Grand Prix weekend on Friday morning in Suzuka, the Mercedes driver clocking in with an impressive 1m28.691s on Pirelli's soft compound.

The Brit edged team mate Valtteri Bottas by 0.443s in what was a very encouraging session for Mercedes, while Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo was third, over half a second adrift from the morning's leader.

Ferrari was almost a full second off the pace, with Kimi Raikkonen concluding FP1 fourth in front of Sebastian Vettel in fifth. Further down the order, Esteban Ocon head the 'Class B' field for Force India, from Haas' Romain Grosjean

2018 Japanese Grand Prix - Free Practice 1

1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1:28.691s25
2Valtteri BottasMercedes1:29.137s+ 0.446s26
3Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1:29.373s+ 0.682s32
4Kimi RäikkönenFerrari1:29.627s+ 0.936s20
5Sebastian VettelFerrari1:29.685s+ 0.994s20
6Max VerstappenRed Bull1:29.841s+ 1.150s30
7Esteban OconForce India1:30.591s+ 1.900s28
8Romain GrosjeanHaas1:30.814s+ 2.123s22
9Charles LeclercSauber1:30.929s+ 2.238s27
10Marcus EricssonSauber1:31.073s+ 2.382s29
11Pierre GaslyToro Rosso1:31.073s+ 2.382s20
12Carlos SainzRenault1:31.100s+ 2.409s23
13Sergio PérezForce India1:31.272s+ 2.581s29
14Kevin MagnussenHaas1:31.274s+ 2.583s28
15Nico HülkenbergRenault1:31.418s+ 2.727s18
16Lance StrollWilliams1:31.508s+ 2.817s27
17Brendon HartleyToro Rosso1:31.908s+ 3.217s23
18Fernando AlonsoMcLaren1:32.034s+ 3.343s21
19Sergey SirotkinWilliams1:32.513s+ 3.822s26
20Lando NorrisMcLaren1:32.683s+ 3.992s30

Drivers were greeted with mild temperatures - 21°C - and an overcast sky, but the light drizzle that had been falling all morning over Suzuka let up in time for FP1.

Lando Norris - running in place of Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren - was the only test driver entered in the opening free session.

Everyone except Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen and the two Mercedes were up and running in the first few minutes, with Daniel Ricciardo - running on soft tyres - putting the first significant time on the board with a 1m30.312s.

Max Verstappen quickly overhauled his Red Bull team mate by 0.012s but the Aussie fought back immediately with a 1m30.030s, the duo appearing very active in the early part of the session.

The Mercedes finally found their way out on to the track, with Hamilton slotting himself in to third ahead of Bottas. Further down the order, Sebastian Vettel's first flying lap was inconclusive, the Ferrari driver locking up at the chicane and having to across the run-off area.

As they put in the laps, the Silver Arrows pair crept to the front, with Bottas fastest in 1m29.842s on the medium compound.

Hamilton suffered a moment however, caught out by a very slow Pierre Gasly at the chicane, and just narrowly missing the Toro Rosso. At the same spot a lap later, Force India's Sergio Perez spun after putting a wheel on the grass.

Fernando Alonso was another driver to run off the track, spectacularly spinning across the gravel at the first part of Degner.

Meanwhile, the Mercedes had moved on to soft tyres, a move that resulted in Hamilton going fastest with a 1m28.691s.

As long runs on heavy fuel ensued for many drivers, the times remained unchanged in the final minutes of the session.

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