Japanese GP, Practice One: Sebastian Vettel just ahead of Lewis Hamilton
Vettel two tenths ahead of Hamilton, Ricciardo in third from Raikkonen; Bottas nearly second off pace; Sainz crashes heavily
By Jonathan Green at Suzuka
Last Updated: 06/10/17 8:07am
Sebastian Vettel set the early pace at the Japanese GP but championship rival Lewis Hamilton was just two tenths of a second behind in Practice One.
Ferrari once again hit the ground running after their impressive pace in Malaysia as Vettel posted a 1:29.166 on the supersoft tyre around Suzuka.
Hamilton, however, was just 0.211 seconds off the pace to suggest Mercedes have closed the gap after their lack of performance at Sepang and set the weekend up for another tight battle at the front between the two title contenders.
Hamilton leads Vettel by 34 points in the Drivers' Championship heading into the weekend.
"If you compare it to this stage in Malaysia, Mercedes were looking a lot further behind Ferrari than they are now," said Sky F1's Anthony Davidson
"I strongly believe it's going to be a close fight between these two teams."
Daniel Ricciardo was third for Red Bull ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in the other Ferrari as less than half a second split the top four.
But Valtteri Bottas' recent struggles continued as he was nearly a second behind Vettel's time. Malaysia GP winner Max Verstappen was 1.5 seconds off Vettel although his Red Bull was suffering a charging issue.
A nasty crash for Carlos Sainz at Turn 11 brought the session to a halt for over 15 minutes, although the Spaniard was able to walk away from the scene unaided.
The Spaniard strayed onto the astro on the exit of the hairpin which sent him spinning into the barriers, causing extensive damage to his Toro Rosso.
Sainz was already set to start Sunday's race last after accruing a 20-place grid penalty for a raft of engine component changes but his engineers now face a major rebuilding job to get him back out for Practice Two.
Esteban Ocon impressed again in the Force India to post the seventh fastest time but the midfield battle looks set to be as tight as ever with just a tenth of a second splitting the Frenchman, Nico Hulkenberg's Renault in eighth and Romain Grosjean's Haas in ninth.
But there were problems for Kevin Magnussen in the sister Haas as he was twice forced back to the garage by a water pressure issue.
And in the final home race for Honda as McLaren's engine partners, Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso were 10th and 12th respectively.
Japanese GP Practice One Timesheet
|Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||+0.375|
|Max Verstappen||Red Bull||+1.596|
|Esteban Ocon||Force India||+1.733|
|Sergio Perez||Force India||+2.364|
|Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso||+3.086|
|Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso||+3.335|
|*All times set on supersoft tyre|
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