Rosberg tops FP1 at Suzuka as Verstappen makes F1 debut

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Nico Rosberg has finished fastest in the first free practice session for this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, edging out teammate and championship rival Lewis Hamilton by one-tenth of a second at the top of the timesheets.

The German driver posted a fastest lap time of 1:35.461 to finish 0.151s clear of Hamilton on Friday morning at Suzuka, but the majority of the paddock’s attention lay with 17-year-old Max Verstappen as the Dutch driver made his F1 debut.

In a shock announcement, Verstappen was confirmed as a Toro Rosso driver for the 2015 season back in August, sparking a debate in the paddock about his age and inexperience, and quite whether he was a suitable option.

However, he went a long way to proving his critics wrong by finishing his first ever grand prix weekend session in 12th place ahead of the Force India, Lotus and Sauber drivers, and just four-tenths behind regular Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat.

During the session, Verstappen also broke the record for being the youngest driver to take part in a grand prix weekend, smashing Sebastian Vettel’s previous milestone by over two years.

However, his running took a turn for the worse with just a few minutes remaining when plumes of smoke emerged from the rear of the Toro Rosso car, meaning that the team is facing a possible engine replacement on Jean-Eric Vergne’s car which could hinder his running in FP2. Nevertheless, it was an impressive public debut for the Dutch youngster on Friday.

At the front, Fernando Alonso put the rampant speculation about his future behind him to finish third behind the Mercedes drivers, with Valtteri Bottas finishing fourth for Williams, some half a second down on the Ferrari driver. Kimi Raikkonen finished fifth ahead of McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

Caterham driver Roberto Merhi enjoyed his second run-out in a practice session, and despite an early spin, he ran well to beat both of the Marussia drivers and finish in 20th position.

As we have become accustom to in 2014, the advantage appears to lie with Mercedes once again, setting the stage for a great fight at the front between Hamilton and Rosberg across the course of the weekend at Suzuka.

You can watch FP2 for the Japanese Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 1am ET on Friday morning.