SUZUKA, Japan (AP) — Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg set the fastest time in Friday’s opening practice session at the Japanese Grand Prix, edging out teammate and Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton.
Rosberg, who lost his championship lead to Hamilton last time out in Singapore, clocked a lap of 1 minute, 35.461 seconds at the Suzuka circuit, 0.151 seconds ahead of Hamilton.
Hamilton leads Rosberg by three points heading into Sunday’s race, and judging by Friday’s practice times, they should again fight out this grand prix between them.
Fernando Alonso, who is holding talks over his future with Ferrari, was third fastest and the only non-Mercedes driver to get within a second of Rosberg’s time.
Williams’ Valtteri Bottas was fourth ahead of the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, then McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen.
Red Bull driver and reigning champion Sebastian Vettel, who has won four of the past five races at Suzuka, was ninth fastest but two tenths of a second behind his teammate Daniel Ricciardo in seventh.
McLaren’s Jenson Button was eighth and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat 10th.
Kvyat was only four tenths of a second quicker than the second Toro Rosso, driven by Max Verstappen.
Having only turned 17 on Tuesday, Verstappen became the youngest driver to take part in a Formula One Grand Prix weekend.
The young Dutchman, who will hand the car back to Jean-Eric Vergne for qualifying and race, showed confidence and composure in his 22 laps before engine trouble in the last 10 minutes of the session ended his day.
He will be promoted from reserve to race driver in 2015.
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