Lewis Hamilton has topped the first practice session in Japan, heading his teammate by almost half a second. The Briton enters the weekend with a 50 point gap to title rival Sebastian Vettel, who has not won a race since Belgium in August.
Hamilton's fastest lap time was a 1:28.691 which was set on the yellow-walled soft compound, the middle tyre Pirelli has brought to the Suzuka Circuit. Following the Mercedes pair in third place was the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo.
Ferrari was fourth and fifth, with Kimi Raikkonen ahead of teammate Vettel. Both men set their fastest laps on the super soft compound, but Vettel was almost a whole second down on pace-setter Hamilton, who set his best lap on a harder compound.
Max Verstappen followed the Ferrari pair in sixth place. The Dutchman is on a high following his star performance in Russia last weekend, where he finished in fifth place after starting at the back of the grid.
Despite his future in major doubt, Esteban Ocon didn't appear phased around the demanding Suzuka track, coming home in seventh place. Romain Grosjean followed his compatriot, with just two-tenths separating the French duo.
Continuing its resurgence, Sauber looks to have impressive pace this weekend as it finished the opening practice session with both of its cars inside the top ten. Charles Leclerc set a 1:30.929, which was marginally quicker than his teammate.
There was a threat of rain lingering throughout the session, with the threat set to become more prominent for the second practice session. Teams were running their race simulations during the morning, in case the rain falls later in the afternoon.
Pierre Gasly ended up in eleventh but didn't have a smooth session. The Frenchman found himself blocking Hamilton at the final chicane, with the Briton having to slam on the brakes and take to the escape road to avoid the Toro Rosso. Gasly also found the grass while travelling through the first sector.
Renault and McLaren's worries about its oil not arriving on time were squashed overnight and the two teams were able to run this morning. Carlos Sainz was twelfth, ahead of the Force India of Sergio Perez and the Haas of Kevin Magnussen.
Nico Hulkenberg was next, ahead of Lance Stroll. The second Toro Rosso of Brendon Hartley followed, while Fernando Alonso slotted in behind the Kiwi. Alonso made a rare mistake during the session, dipping two wheels on the grass heading into the first Degner corner.
Alonso spun around and found himself in the gravel, but out of the barriers. The Spaniard was able to return to the pits on his own. Sergey Sirotkin was nineteenth while Lando Norris, who took over Stoffel Vandoorne's car for the session, rounded out the timesheets.
Bahrain International Circuit - Winter testing
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