Vettel paces opening Suzuka F1 practice as Sainz crashes hard

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Sebastian Vettel led Ferrari to the top of the timesheets in opening practice for the Japanese Grand Prix on Friday morning at Suzuka, edging out Formula 1 title rival Lewis Hamilton by two-tenths of a second.

With heavy rain forecast for much of the day at Suzuka, the majority of teams opted to get out early in FP1 in a bid to maximize track time.

Conditions remained dry for the most part of the 90-minute session, though, with light drizzle only hitting the track in the closing minutes.

Vettel was able to put in a rapid lap of 1:29.166 – already 1.4 seconds faster than last year’s pole time – to finish clear of Hamilton at the front for Ferrari, despite losing a small amount of time behind Marcus Ericsson through the final sector.

Hamilton was left to settle for second ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, with less than four-tenths of a second separating the top three teams through the opening session.

The most notable incident through FP1 came when Carlos Sainz Jr. crashed hard exiting the hairpin with 40 minutes remaining, causing a significant amount of damage to the front of his Toro Rosso.

Sainz was able to walk away from the shunt unharmed, but has left his team with a sizeable repair job to complete ahead of second practice later this afternoon.

The Finnish duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas finished fourth and fifth respectively, neither able to match the pace of their teammates in P1 and P2, while Max Verstappen was over a second down on Ricciardo in the second Red Bull, ending up sixth.

Esteban Ocon swept to P7 for Force India ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, while Romain Grosjean and Stoffel Vandoorne completed the top 10 for Haas and McLaren respectively, pointing to another tight midfield battle at Suzuka.

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