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.