Sport

Vettel lays down early marker in Japan

Vettel lays down early marker in Japan”

Originally scheduled to begin at 0500 GMT, the start of the session was delayed by 45 minutes as drains overflowed and rivers of water coursed down inclines at the undulating track.

The German, who trails Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton by 34 points with five races left this season, steered his Ferrari to a fastest lap of one minute, 29.166 seconds in light drizzle at Suzuka.

The Mercedes man set a largely arbitrary time of 1 minute 48.719 seconds, with Force India duo Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez and both Williams of Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll the only other drivers to register a time. He was unhurt but there was significant damage to his Toro Rosso auto.

F1's two Finns were fourth and fifth, with Kimi Raikkonen 0.472s off Ferrari teammate Vettel and Valtteri Bottas 0.985s off the pace in the second Mercedes.

With just five races remaining, Hamilton is now standing at the top of the drivers' championship and maintaining a lead of 34 points after winnings six out of 13 races this year. The auto was a lot better this morning in the dry than it was in the last race.

Mercedes had struggled for pace in the sweltering heat of Singapore and Malaysia, where they were the third fastest team, but Hamilton made the most of his good fortune to claim a victory and a second to extend his championship lead.

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo became the first driver to dip beneath the 1m30s barrier just shy of half an hour into the session, using super-softs to set a 1m29.541s and eclipse Hamilton by 0.501s.

Valtteri Bottas and Malaysia GP victor Max Verstappen were fifth and sixth, respectively.

Nico Hulkenberg was eighth for Renault, ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean and Stoffel Vandoorne set the 10th fastest time in his McLaren at power unit supplier Honda's home race.

Vettel's best time of 1m29.166s was set shortly after a red-flag period that was caused when Toro Rosso driver Sainz suffered a violent crash around 50 minutes into the session.

The Renault-bound Spaniard, already set for a hefty grid penalty for exceeding his power unit component allocation, walked away unscathed but his vehicle came to a rest across the track, leading to a 16-minute delay as the debris was cleared.



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