Nico Rosberg has opened up top of the timesheets as the Japanese Grand Prix got underway with first free practice at the iconic Suzuka Circuit.

Coming into Round 17 armed with a 23 point lead over Lewis Hamilton in the standings with five races remaining, Rosberg was comfortably quickest on the soft tyres to stop the clock at 1min 32.431secs.

Two tenths faster than title rival Hamilton as Mercedes put daylight between itself and their rivals, Ferrari followed up more than a second adrift with Sebastian Vettel, who in turn was three tenths up on Kimi Raikkonen in third and fourth respectively.

Arriving in Japan on the back of their spectacular 1-2 finish in Sepang, Red Bull maintained its usual modest start to a race weekend by choosing not to fit the soft tyres, Daniel Ricciardo leading Max Verstappen in fifth and sixth places.

Force India was comfortable inside the top ten in seventh and eighth positions, ahead of McLaren's Fernando Alonso, who survived a brush with the barrier with a spin at the Spoon curve and an early finish with a damaged exhaust issue to still be ninth. Valtteri Bottas completed the top ten for Williams.

Elsewhere, Romain Grosjean was another to experience an off by sliding on at Degna 2, the Frenchman complaining of 'brakes that don't brake' on his Haas as he kissed the barrier and ended his session early.

Jolyon Palmer's morning was also brought to an early conclusion courtesy of electrical issues on his Renault, leaving him at the bottom of the timesheets.


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