• Sebastian Vettel ended the opening day of practice for the Japanese Grand Prix

    Abhishek TakleMumbaiOct 07, 2017, 11:24 IST

    Sebastian Vettel ended the opening day of practice for the Japanese Grand Prix at the top of the timesheets as his benchmark time yesterday morning remained unbeaten in a rain-delayed afternoon session in which only five drivers set a time. The Ferrari driver lapped the 5.8-kilometer long Suzuka track in one minute 29.166 seconds under overcast skies spitting with rain, beating championship rival Lewis Hamilton to second.

    Sebastian Vettel. Pic/AFP
    Sebastian Vettel. Pic/AFP

    Vettel trails his Mercedes rival by 34 points with just five of this season's 20 races left, after the German suffered successive setbacks in Singapore and Malaysia which Hamilton capitalised on. Vettel's effort came near the end of the 90-minute session just as the stray drops of rain grew into a heavy drizzle.

    The weather worsened over the lunch break, with a downpour lashing the circuit as the clock ticked down to the start of the second practice session. That forced a 45-minute delay with drivers and teams amusing themselves by sailing paper boats down the rivers of water flowing down the inclines of the undulating track.

    When the session got going again only five drivers ventured to set a time, with neither Ferrari choosing to lay down a flier. Hamilton went fastest, albeit lapping nearly 20 seconds slower than Vettel's morning benchmark. Times chalked up in the opening session generally tumble in the afternoon as the track rubbers in but the wet surface made that impossible at Suzuka yesterday.

    The Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, who won the last race in Malaysia, did not set a time in the afternoon either but had been third and sixth quickest in the morning session, respectively. Valtteri Bottas, in the other Mercedes, ended the day fifth with his morning's best as Ocon came seventh. Nico Hulkenberg was eighth for Renault, ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean, while Stoffel Vandoorne set the 10th fastest time in his McLaren at power unit supplier Honda's home race.

    Carlos Sainz brought out the red flags in the opening session after crashing his Toro Rosso. The Spaniard, already hit with a hefty grid penalty for exceeding his allocation of power unit components, escaped unscathed. But the session was halted for 16 minutes as marshals cleared away his stranded car and cleaned the track of debris.

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