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Rosberg leads opening Japanese GP practice as Alonso, Grosjean hit trouble

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Formula 1 drivers’ championship leader Nico Rosberg made an impressive start to the Japanese Grand Prix weekend at Suzuka by topping opening practice for Mercedes on Friday morning.

Rosberg arrived in Japan with a 23-point lead at the top of the standings after finishing third in Malaysia last weekend and seeing Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton retire from the race.

Rosberg enjoyed the early edge over Hamilton during first practice, hooking up a lap of 1:33.751 to finish two-tenths of a second clear at the top of the timesheets for Mercedes.

The German marque once again dominated proceedings with a one-two finish as Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel finished as the best of the rest in third place, over a second behind Rosberg at the top.

Kimi Raikkonen followed teammate Vettel home in fourth place in FP1 as Ferrari pulled clear of close rivals Red Bull, whose drivers finished fifth and sixth, Daniel Ricciardo leading Max Verstappen.

Force India made an impressive start to practice at Suzuka as Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez finished seventh and eighth respectively. Rivals in the race for P4 in the constructors’ championship Williams finished over half a second adrift with Valtteri Bottas 10th in the final standings.

The session was not without incident as both Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean hit the barriers. Alonso spun at the exit of Spoon early in the running, damaging his rear wing. The Spaniard was able to still finish the session ninth-fastest for McLaren.

Grosjean suffered yet another brake failure – a recurring issue at Haas – that left him careering into the barrier, bringing his session to an early end.

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

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).