Lewis Hamilton set the pace in the opening practice session for this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix as the front of the field took on a 'Noah's Ark' appearance on the timesheets.

The Briton, who has become a fixture at the front in free practice this season, posted a 1min 34.157secs lap to lead the pack by three-tenths, with Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg next up, and the respective pairings from Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus filling the following six spots.

At a circuit beloved by the majority of the field, Hamilton was pretty much the man to beat throughout the 90 minutes of running, bringing down the benchmark time every time he ventured out. Red Bull, however, is well known for holding back in FP1, and was only six-tenths off the pace, as Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber took third and fourth places respectively. The Australian is running with a new - and slightly heavier - car this weekend, following the fire that ended his race in Korea last Sunday, but was just 0.019secs slower than his team-mate, who could wrap up a fourth consecutive world title this weekend.

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Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean won the respective intra-team battles at Ferrari and Lotus, filling P5 and P7 as a result, while Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo claimed top positions for McLaren and Toro Rosso. Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg were the drivers to miss out, both lapping some three-tenths slower than Ricciardo and having to settle for eleventh and twelfth.

All times were set on the harder of the two Pirelli tyre options on offer, so the benchmark is expected to come down in the second session later this afternoon.

The session was marked by several incidents, with Jules Bianchi and Giedo van der Garde both crashing out at the second part of Degner, and Pastor Maldonado losing a wheel at Spoon. Bianchi was later seen sporting an icepack on his arm, the legacy of trapping his elbow between the seat and cockpit side at the point of impact, the force of which removed the front wing and left front wheel from his Marussia. van der Garde's incident, which occurred at more or less the same place, was on lesser severity, frustrating the Dutchman as he proved unable to return to the circuit.

van der Garde would up ahead only of Max Chilton who, like the Dutchman, Bianchi and Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez, was learning the circuit in an F1 car. The quartet all found themselves in the bottom five, joined by Heikki Kovalainen, who once again returned to the cockpit of a Caterham for the session.