• Japanese Grand Prix - FP1

Vettel fastest as Hamilton ends session in the wall

Laurence Edmondson October 8, 2010 « Red Bull has the advantage, says Alonso | »
Lewis Hamilton watches on as marshals clear away his stricken car © Sutton Images

The Red Bulls set an ominous pace during the opening practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton dented his championship chances further by crashing out.

Sebastian Vettel's time of 1:32.585 was the fastest of the 90 minutes session, with team-mate Mark Webber's best just 0.048 seconds shy. Vettel looked quick from the outset and once he took the top spot 40 minutes into the session he never let go. The circuit's high-speed corners suit the Red Bull and the car featured a number of minor upgrades that should make it even faster this weekend.

Hamilton ended up fifth fastest and was the closest man to the Red Bulls' awesome pace through the sweeping first sector, just before he had his accident. He bottomed out in Degner One, ran wide over the kerb on the exit and understeered off in Degner Two as he failed to shave off enough speed to get the car turned in. From the outside it looked as though the McLaren merely brushed the barrier, but the impact was big enough to tear off his front-left suspension and bring an end to his session just 45 minutes in.

Towards the end of practice, Hamilton's team-mate Jenson Button made a similar mistake and smashed over the kerbs on the exit of Degner One. It looked for a moment as though his accident was going to be more dramatic, but he managed to get the car turned sideways and scrubbed off enough speed to stop in the gravel and miss the barrier. The Degner corners, where Mark Webber crashed out and missed qualifying last year, are clearly a problem section for McLaren, with the car bottoming out over a bump on the apex. The lost track time will be particularly costly as the team is bringing a raft of updates to this grand prix and hoped for a "big test session" on Friday.

The other title competitor, Fernando Alonso, had a much quieter session in his Ferrari. His best lap was only good enough for 13th, one place behind Button and two behind team-mate Felipe Massa, but he was quite obviously working on updates rather than searching for the ultimate lap. Ferrari also has to keep one eye on engine mileage in these practice sessions as Alonso is just one new engine away from a ten-place grid penalty.

Robert Kubica was third fastest for Renault, with a time 0.544 seconds off Vettel's. The car is clearly hooked up and on-board footage showed just how far F1 downforce levels have come as he took the once-daunting 130R one handed while operating his F-duct. Force India's Adrian Sutil was another half second off Kubica in fourth and quickly found a good set-up in the high-speed corners before a minor hydraulic issue limited his running slightly.

The two Williams again look quick with the sixth and seventh fastest times, ahead of a confidence-boosting performance for both Michael Schumacher in the Mercedes and Nick Heidfeld in the Sauber. Nico Rosberg was tenth fastest but ended the session in the garage with mechanics inspecting the floor and rear-end of his car.