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.