Formula 1

Nico Rosberg quickest in Japanese Grand Prix practice

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Nico Rosberg got his quest of redemption after the disappointment of Singapore off to the perfect start by leading the opening practice session at the Japanese Grand Prix.

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The German posted a 1:35.461 to edge out team-mate Lewis Hamilton as the Mercedes quickly re-established their dominance at the front.

As is becoming accustom for Friday practice, Fernando Alonso put his Ferrari third ahead of Valtteri Bottas with Kimi Raikkonen and Kevin Magnussen completing the top six.

Hot and humid

As concerns continue over the approaching Typhoon Phanfone, the opening session was greeted by dry conditions, however it was a hot and humid morning with temperatures more accustom to Malaysia than Suzuka.

Heavy rain on Thursday had also left the outer edges of the track still damp and particularly the Astroturf on the exit of several corners as some drivers went for a spin.

What was also clear was a major lack of grip as the cars looked wilfully slow through the famous 'Snake' section and even the great 130R was proving tricky as drivers felt the need to lift.

Teen makes history

A little piece of history was also confirmed at Toro Rosso as Dutchman Max Verstappen made his much anticipated debut becoming the youngest driver ever to compete during a Grand Prix weekend.

At 17 years and three days, Verstappen smashes the record previously held by fellow Red Bull stable mate Sebastian Vettel who was 19 years and a month when he first stepped behind the wheel of a BMW Sauber at the 2006 Turkish Grand Prix.

While there were some problems, most seemed to be down to a misbehaving car as an issue with third gear and then a late engine failure curtailed what was still an impressive first outing.

Verstappen didn't look out of place running alongside the best drivers in the world completing a representative 22 laps and his best time of 1:38.157 was only four tenths of a second slower than his 2015 team-mate Daniil Kvyat who was also running a more updated car.

Merhi debuts

While much of the hullabaloo surrounded Verstappen another promising young driver made his F1 debut as Roberto Merhi finally got his chance at Caterham.

The Spaniard has impressed in DTM and Formula 3, however, the inexperience was perhaps more apparent for the 23-year-old as he spun out while recovering back onto the circuit following a trip into the run-off area at the Spoon curve.

The incident caused a brief moment of panic as Valtteri Bottas was forced to lock his brakes to avoid the recovering Caterham, however, following a few days of bad press for the Leafield team both cars finished ahead of the two Marussia's partly as the team tries a new front wing but mostly because of curtailed running by Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton.

Notables

Looking through the order, the two Red Bull's continued their trend of easing into a weekend as Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel took seventh and ninth respectively, both RB10's were over two seconds slower than the Mercedes but expect that gap to come down as qualifying approaches.

Amid speculation over the future of Fernando Alonso, the battle at his most likely alternative, McLaren, will be one to watch.

Kevin Magnussen has been getting the upper hand on Jenson Button in recent races and the Dane was three tenths clear again in the first session. The 2009 champion was far from happy, however, reporting several issues with his MP4-29.

While in their battle with Force India, Vijay Mallya's team will hope the one second gap between the best time set by each car comes down pretty quickly as they look to defend their six point lead.

Tyres proving tricky

With the significant lack of grip, the Pirelli hard tyres were having difficulty staying alive on the Suzuka track.

The mix of low, medium and high-speed turns put significant loads through the tyres and with a threat of rain this afternoon, several teams took the chance to complete a longer run to gain a feel for durability.

Consensus based on the Mercedes run was around 15-20 laps was possible which would likely lead to a two stop race on Sunday, however, with a Typhoon possibly on the way that information may mean very little indeed.

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Formula 1

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