Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel headed Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes in first practice as their title battle resumed at the Japanese Grand Prix.
The German was 0.211 seconds quicker than Hamilton, who leads Vettel by 34 points with five races remaining.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was third quickest, 0.375secs off the pace.
The session was stopped for 16 minutes after a big crash for Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, who lost control out of the Hairpin and smashed into the wall. He was unhurt.
The accident added on what was already a bad day for the Spaniard, who will have a 20-place grid penalty for using more than the permitted number of engine parts.
Sainz appeared to get a rear wheel beyond the kerb where there was a wet patch, losing the car under power.
It was a busy session as teams strove to get through as much work as possible under the threat of wet weather.
In the end, the rain was restricted to a light drizzle in the latter part of the session, and it was not enough to disrupt running until it began to come down more heavily in the final five minutes.
Sainz was once hospitalised for a heavy practice crash at the Russian Grand Prix
But it meant an action-filled session at one of the world’s great race tracks, and some near misses for other drivers in addition to Sainz’s accident.
Max Verstappen, sixth quickest and nearly as second slower than Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo after his quick lap was interrupted by the red flag for Sainz’s accident, had a particularly edgy time.
The Dutchman ran wide through the gravel at the Spoon double left-hander midway through the session and then bounced over the kerb on the exit of the tricky Degner Two corner.
Verstappen was behind the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen and Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Esteban Ocon’s Force India was seventh, ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, Romain Grosjean’s Haas and Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren.
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The Belgian, fresh from an impressive Malaysian Grand Prix, was again quicker than team-mate Fernando Alonso, who was 12th fastest, 0.033secs behind Vandoorne.
At the front, Vettel’s pace was a worrying sign for Hamilton and Mercedes, who in theory were expected to be the quickest combination in Japan.
The track’s long corners and sensitivity to engine power should mean it suits the Mercedes, whereas other tracks in the closing stages of the season are expected to favour Ferrari.
So if Vettel can be competitive or even beat Hamilton at Suzuka, it underlines why Hamilton was concerned about Mercedes’ form even as he extended his lead with second place behind Verstappen in Malaysia last weekend