Hamilton leads Mercedes 1-2 in Japanese GP first practice

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Mercedes has opened the Japanese Grand Prix weekend with a 1-2 effort in Friday free practice 1. Lewis Hamilton led Nico Rosberg in the 90-minute session.

Hamilton’s best lap of 1:34.157 around the 3.6-mile Suzuka Circuit was more than a quarter second quicker than his 2012 teammate, Jenson Button, turned a year ago in a McLaren (1:34.507).

Rosberg was 0.33 of a second in arrears and the rest of the top 10 was nearly in proper “Noah’s Ark” two-by-two grid formation until right at the end of the session.

Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were third and fourth in the two Red Bulls, with the two Ferraris (Felipe Massa ahead of Fernando Alonso) and two Lotus-Renaults (Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen) next up.

Sergio Perez was ninth in the McLaren with Daniel Ricciardo’s late flier of 1:35.635 eclipsing Button’s 10th place time.

Monza and Korea hero Nico Hulkenberg was 12th for Sauber. Both Force Indias struggled; Paul di Resta was unable to get his tires properly up to temperatures and was just 17th ahead of Hulkenberg’s teammate Esteban Gutierrez.

While things were uneventful at the front of the grid there were four incidents of note from the tail-enders. Two happened simultaneously with 22 minutes remaining.

Williams’ Pastor Maldonado lost his left rear wheel on exit at Spoon Curve, and that pitched him into a spin. At the same time, Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde went off at Degner 2, locking his brakes and ending in the gravel before hitting the barriers.

Marussia’s Jules Bianchi wasn’t so lucky earlier in the session. He went off at the same corner, Degner 2, the second part of the double-apex right hander. When he tried to apply opposite lock to correct the oversteer, his arm was stuck against the side of the cockpit and he went into the barrier. It caused some left front damage to his car.

Teammate Max Chilton had a lazy but not serious spin right at the end of the session.

Elsewhere at the back of the grid, Heikki Kovalainen was back in the second Caterham, and clocked in 19th in Charles Pic’s chassis. Kovalainen led the three other tail-enders; his best time of 1:37.595 was less than a tenth clear of Bianchi, with van der Garde and Chilton further back.

SMP Racing unveils BR1 LMP1 car in Bahrain ahead of WEC entry

SMP Racing
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SMP Racing has publicly unveiled its new BR1 LMP1 car that will enter the FIA World Endurance Championship from 2018.

SMP Racing opted to pull out of racing full-time in the WEC for 2017 in order to focus on its preparations for an LMP1 entry the following year, with the decision being taken long in advance of Porsche’s exit announcement.

Officials from the Russian-backed SMP Racing, as well as drivers including recent IndyCar racer Mikhail Aleshin (sporting a broken arm in a sling), Vitaly Petrov and Sergey Sirotkin were all on hand to unveil the car on Friday in the Bahrain International Circuit paddock ahead of this weekend’s WEC finale.

The BR Engineering BR1 features a Dallara chassis and an AER engine, and has completed over 2,000 km in private testing, with further running set to be completed in the coming weeks.

SMP Racing plans to field two cars in the WEC’s LMP1 class next year, and is keen to get as many Russian drivers as possible in the seats from its wide pool of talent.

Even with Porsche’s departure from LMP1, the class is set to feature a bigger field thanks to the increased number of privateers moving up, with Toyota set to remain the sole manufacturer in the class.