SUZUKA, October 4-Championship leader Lewis Hamilton crashed in Saturday’s free practice while Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg topped the time-sheets as the drama continued ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix.
The feuding rivals have taken turns to top practice and Briton Hamilton, who leads Rosberg by three points with five races remaining this year, posted the second quickest lap, despite failing to complete his qualifying simulation on the medium rubber as the German had.
With news of Sebastien Vettel’s shock departure from Red Bull reverberating, Hamilton lost control and crashed into a tyre barrier on turn one, tearing off his front left wheel.
Rosberg’s fastest lap of one minute and 33.228 seconds on the softer tyre compound was 0.982 quicker than Hamilton with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso third, followed by the Williams cars of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas.
Moments after Hamilton’s accident, Lotus pair Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado had incidents of their own at the same spot but without major consequences.
Hamilton, who set his quickest lap earlier in the one-hour session on hard Pirellis, was unhurt but having had his practice cut short, he will go into qualifying with little knowledge of how the softer tyre behaves at the high-speed Suzuka circuit.
Four-times defending champion Vettel, whose bombshell announcement he will leave Red Bull at the end of the season has set tongues wagging, completed only six laps before pitting for repairs and was 15th.
Former champion Kimi Raikkonen managed just five laps before he entered the pits and got out of his Ferrari, the Finn finishing in 12th place overall.