After having prehaps the luckiest race of his career in Malaysia, last time out, Nico Rosberg kicked off the Japanese Grand Prix weekend by going on as he means to continue, by edging out Lewis Hamilton by 0.215 in opening practice from Suzuka.
The margain was comfortable, with Hamilton losing the majority of the time deficit through Sector 1, the fast flowing sequence of left-right handers, around 0.170s. It was a comfortable morning for the pair of W07's, with Mercedes enjoying a gap of 1.094 to the third place driver, Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari, who in turn was 0.286 up on his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in fourth.
It was interesting, that the top four all set their best times on the Soft tyre, as the Red Bull duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, prehaps slightly hid their true pace, by running on the Hard and Medium tyres throughoiut the session, on their way to fifth and sixth. Ricciardo was 1.681 down on Rosberg, and with a tyre delta of around 0.8s from medium to Soft suggests the Red Bull could be best of the rest. The answer to that will come in Second Practice, later this morning, when teams focus on their long-run race-pace simulations.
Force India had yet another strong morning and session, finishing in seventh and eighth, Nico Hulkenberg having bragging rights over Sergio Perez for the time being, with Fernando Alonso, running the new Honda PU, in ninth, after a brief off early on, and Valterri Bottas just doing enough to hold off Danill Kvyat for 10th place.
Green track causes issues
As the light at the end of the pit-lane went green there was a mass stampede out and onto the track, with Romain Grosjean having the honours of being first onto the circuit. After a quiet opening 10 or so minutes, with drivers completing their install laps, it was Perez who clocked the first time of the weekend, although as the faster cars began to set times, they soon jumped him, with Raikkonen and then by 1.094 over the Ferrari, Rosberg taking top spot.
The opening minutes of running, was marred by a lack of grip, with Felipe Massa's Williams among those to go wide, searching for grip and traction. It was however, Alonso was was the first spinner of the weekend, losing control of his McLaren at 'Spoon Curve' hitting the barrier with his right-rear, damaging the rear-wing of the car, before he was able to limp home, for repairs. Although McLaren got him out again, he was limited to only 10 laps in the session.
At about the same time , Raikkonen was busy sliding off the track at the hairpin, after a lock-up on entry, sent his Ferrari toward the grass, which the Finn, just about avoided, although his tyres picked up a little grass and rubbish. This caused the Finn to abort his first flying lap, instead going for a second time, which was the time that was good enough for a brief dalliance with P1, before the Mercedes' came through.
It wasn't all plain sailing for Mercedes however, with Hamilton reporting "there ain't a lot power", and Rosberg "monster understeer", as the attention switched to the long runs. Meanwhile Verstappen was busy trying to find a fix to his troublesome gearshifts, as Raikkonen improved his time, to go just 0.066 down on Rosberg, briefly splitting the Mercedes at the top of the timing screens.
Octopus and brakes
As the action settled down for the long-runs, Kvyat reported a "baby Octopus" in his car. It turned out, that another animal hadn't found its way into Formula One, after Singapore's Giant Lizard, but was a code for a piece of rubber that had became trapped in Kvyat's line of vision, although it didn't hamper the Russian, who was a very credible P11 and ahead of team-mate Carlos Sainz in P12.
In the last two Grand Prix, Grosjean has completed eight racing laps. The reason for this has been constant brake issues with the Brembo pads that the Haas VF-16 uses. In Singapore, he was unable to take the start, and a right-rear disc exploded in Malaysia heading into T15. There was more trouble as FP1 wore on, with the Haas shooting off on entry to Degner 2, gently brushing the wall, leaving the Frenchman no choice but to reserve away from the dangerous position he was in. He was soon on the radio complaining, "mate, the brake doesnt' brake". If you can't stop, you can at least go, and Grosjean managed to haul the Haas into P14 come the chequer.
Aside from that, there was another strange radio communication, as Bottas was told to go into "Bottas Saving", late-on. Best guesses at what this command from Jonathan Eddolls, his race engineer were getting at were ease off for two laps, recharge the batteries and then go-again for one final late push. The rest of the session passed without incident after this, aside from the Renault mechanics working on an electrical issues on Jolyon Palmer's car that restricted him to just 13 laps and P22 in the session.
|5.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||+1.681|
|6.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||+1.948|
|7.||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||+2.099|
|8.||Sergio Perez||Force India||+2.336|
|11.||Danill Kvyat||Toro Rosso||+3.015|
|12.||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso||+3.241|