Carlos Sainz Jr. made a strong start to his Japanese Grand Prix weekend by finishing at the top of the timesheets as rain washed out by majority of the opening practice session at Suzuka.
Heavy rain overnight continued throughout the morning, forcing the early runners in FP1 to venture out on the wet tire and take their explorative laps carefully to avoid losing control and sliding off the track.
As the session wore on, conditions cleared up enough to allow the drivers to switch to the intermediate tire and post some quicker lap times. Although many chose to remain in the pits for the entirety of the session, some of the teams took advantage of the wet conditions to complete some test running.
Toro Rosso was the first team to send its drivers out for a flying lap run with 30 minutes remaining, and it was Sainz who managed to finish in P1 with a fastest lap of 1:49.434 ahead of Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat by half a second.
Nico Rosberg finished third for Mercedes as he switched back to his updated engine from Monza, allowing him to finish 0.5 seconds ahead of Singapore winner Sebastian Vettel in fourth. Lewis Hamilton finished fifth in the second Mercedes, and was followed by Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen.
Williams lack of wet weather pace was clear to see once again as Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas could only finish eighth and tenth respectively. Only 12 drivers opted to head out on track and post a time.
With conditions improving towards the end of FP1, the drivers will be hoping for this to improve ahead of FP2 later in the day. You can watch second practice live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 1am ET on Friday morning.
ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).
“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.
“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”
For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.
“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.
“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”
Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.
“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.