Ferrari duo Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa took first blood as the Formula One circus returned to Fuji Speedway for the first time since 1977, claiming the top two spots in the opening free practice session for Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix.

As expected, Ferrari and season-long rivals McLaren filled the top four places on the timesheets after 90 minutes - the only teams under 1min 20secs for the revamped circuit - but it was the Scuderia which held the upper hand, Raikkonen setting the pace by nearly four tenths, while Massa enjoyed a smaller, but still comfortable, gap over Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton.

The circuit had not been expected to favour Ferrari as much as McLaren, but Raikkonen's 1min 19.119secs effort, set late in the session, offered up the first benchmark of a weekend which could prove pivotal for the outcome of the drivers' championship. The Finn joined everyone else in putting in as many laps as possible during the session, completing 26 tours as he endeavoured to learn the finer points of the layout. Although not everyone was fortunate to get as much mileage - home favourites Takuma Sato and Sakon Yamamoto managed 'just' 15 and 17 laps respectively - most of the field passed 20 tours.

Behind the 'big four', Williams showed early promise, with Nico Rosberg claiming fifth spot and Alex Wurz seventh, the pair sandwiching BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica. While the Grove team continues to strive for better position in the constructors' standings, BMW has accepted its inherited second place and turned its attention to next season. Kubica was a couple of tenths off Rosberg, while team-mate Nick Heidfeld was mired down in 13th spot.

Unlike BMW, Toyota is continuing to add developments to its TF107, and Jarno Trulli benefited initially to pop up in eighth place. The Italian's performance was, however, overshadowed by the men behind him, Adrian Sutil again wringing a decent time out of the revised Spyker to claim ninth on the softer Bridgestones tyres and Anthony Davidson pushing the reliveried Super Aguri into the top ten. The second Toyota, driven by Ralf Schumacher, was four tenths off its sister, but back in 15th position.

Rubens Barrichello did his bit to prevent the works Honda team from being embarrassed by its 'customer', lapping within hundredths of Davidson late, but team-mate Jenson Button was unable to take advantage of the improved late running and ended the morning back in 19th spot.

Tonio Liuzzi was another to show above maybe what was expected of his team, getting the best of the Toro Rossos into 14th spot, but all will point to the various programmes being followed up and down pit-lane as reason for the unexpected variations. STR team-mate Sebastian Vettel was only 20th after struggling with mechanical gremlins, while Red Bull stable-mate David Coulthard also lost track time and had to settle for 21st, ahead only of Yamamoto.

 

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