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Vettel paces opening Suzuka F1 practice as Sainz crashes hard

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Sebastian Vettel led Ferrari to the top of the timesheets in opening practice for the Japanese Grand Prix on Friday morning at Suzuka, edging out Formula 1 title rival Lewis Hamilton by two-tenths of a second.

With heavy rain forecast for much of the day at Suzuka, the majority of teams opted to get out early in FP1 in a bid to maximize track time.

Conditions remained dry for the most part of the 90-minute session, though, with light drizzle only hitting the track in the closing minutes.

Vettel was able to put in a rapid lap of 1:29.166 – already 1.4 seconds faster than last year’s pole time – to finish clear of Hamilton at the front for Ferrari, despite losing a small amount of time behind Marcus Ericsson through the final sector.

Hamilton was left to settle for second ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, with less than four-tenths of a second separating the top three teams through the opening session.

The most notable incident through FP1 came when Carlos Sainz Jr. crashed hard exiting the hairpin with 40 minutes remaining, causing a significant amount of damage to the front of his Toro Rosso.

Sainz was able to walk away from the shunt unharmed, but has left his team with a sizeable repair job to complete ahead of second practice later this afternoon.

The Finnish duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas finished fourth and fifth respectively, neither able to match the pace of their teammates in P1 and P2, while Max Verstappen was over a second down on Ricciardo in the second Red Bull, ending up sixth.

Esteban Ocon swept to P7 for Force India ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, while Romain Grosjean and Stoffel Vandoorne completed the top 10 for Haas and McLaren respectively, pointing to another tight midfield battle at Suzuka.

Second practice for the Japanese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 1am ET on Friday.

F1 2017 driver review: Kevin Magnussen

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Kevin Magnussen

Team: Haas
Car No.: 20
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P7 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 19
Championship Position: 14th

Kevin Magnussen’s move to Haas proved to be a win-win situation for both parties through 2017 as they banished the struggles of the previous Formula 1 season.

For Magnussen, the move came after a difficult one-season stint with Renault who despite offering him a way back into F1 after a year on the sidelines were unable to produce a car allowing the Dane to fight far up the order.

Haas had not expected to be able to be that much further ahead, but Magnussen nevertheless immediately offered an uplift in performance after replacing Esteban Gutierrez, who failed to score a single point through 2016.

Magnussen picked up Haas’ first points of the season with a solid drive in China, and was able to capitalize on the bonkers Baku race to take P7, which would ultimately be his best result of the season.

Consistency was a real issue for Haas throughout the year as it continued to have teething problems most new teams encounter, and while Magnussen was more able to drive around the problems than teammate Romain Grosjean, he lacked the ultimate pace of his teammate.

That said, Magnussen’s season highlight came in Mexico, a track Haas expected to be its worst of the season. The ex-McLaren driver qualified on the last row but produced a stunning display to finish eighth, soaking up pressure from Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton late on.

The signs are positive moving forward. Next year should be Haas’ best yet thanks to the stability in the regulations, presenting a good opportunity for Magnussen to prove his star quality.

Season High: Taking P8 in Mexico when Haas expected to be slowest.

Season Low: Lagging home P15 at Spa as Grosjean hit the points.