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Bottas leads final Japan F1 practice despite early crash (VIDEO)

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Valtteri Bottas closed out practice for the Japanese Grand Prix leading the timesheets for Mercedes despite crashing early in FP3, completing just nine laps in total on Saturday morning.

Mercedes was eager to bounce back and respond to Ferrari’s Friday pace at Suzuka, and did so early on as Bottas and teammate Lewis Hamilton rose to the top of the order with quick laps on the soft compound tire.

Bottas’ early time of 1:29.055 proved quick enough to give him P1 come the checkered flag despite only featuring in the first third of the session.

FP3 at Suzuka was interrupted by two red flag periods, the first coming after 20 minutes when Bottas hit the wall at the exit of Spoon, leaving debris strewn across the track.

Bottas was able to limp back to the pits, albeit with significant damage to the right-rear corner of his Mercedes W08 car that meant he was unable to get back out on-track as the team completed repairs.

The session returned to green 10 minutes after Bottas’ shunt, only for the red flag to return not long after when Kimi Raikkonen ran wide at Degner 2 and slid into the barrier, damaging the left-hand side of his Ferrari.

Friday’s limited running meant many teams did not chase outright lap time in FP3, with Bottas’ lap going unbeaten through the session as Hamilton finished just 0.014 seconds further back in the second Mercedes.

Title contender Sebastian Vettel did flirt with a quick lap late on for Ferrari, but ultimately finished three-tenths of a second behind Bottas on the super-soft tire.

Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo completed the top five for Red Bull, while Esteban Ocon led the close-knit midfield in sixth for Force India ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg.

Ocon and Hulkenberg’s respective teammates, Sergio Perez and Jolyon Palmer, completed the top 10 behind McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who finished eighth-fastest.

Qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2am ET on Saturday.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.