SUZUKA, October 8 – McLaren's Lewis Hamilton started the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix weekend on the worst possible note with a heavy crash in first practice at Suzuka on Friday.The 25-year-old, who failed to finish the last two races in Italy and Singapore after clashes with rivals Felipe Massa (Ferrari) and Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing), crashed his McLaren halfway through the 90-minute first practice at Suzuka, which was topped by Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing.
Vettel, the 2009 winner in Japan, set his fastest lap of 1min 32.585secs with 22 minutes remaining, edging teammate and championship leader Webber, who was 0.048secs adrift as Red Bull looked peerless on Suzuka’s sweeping curves.
Renault’s Robert Kubica was the only other driver to be within a second of Vettel’s time in third, 0.544secs behind the German. Adrian Sutil (Force India), Hamilton and Rubens Barrichello of Williams rounded out the top six.
Hamilton, who had set the fastest first sector of any driver to that stage of the session just before his accident, ran wide at Turn 9 of the 18-corner circuit and slammed the front left of the McLaren into the barriers.
Earlier this weekend, McLaren confirmed that Hamilton and teammate Jenson Button would be using Friday’s practice in Japan to test a host of upgrades to the MP4-25 car.
The revisions include a revised front wing and new rear wing as the team attempts to get on the pace of Red Bull and a resurgent Ferrari, which has won the last two races with Fernando Alonso.
Former world champion Hamilton came into the weekend in third place in the title race, 20 points behind championship leader Webber.
Reigning world champion Button, who is fifth in the standings and 25 points adrift of the Red Bull driver, finished the session in 12th place, surviving a late-session scare as he ran wide at the same corner that claimed Hamilton.
The 30-year-old Briton was able to stay out of the barriers and return slowly to the pits.
Alonso, who is just 11 points behind Webber in the title race after back-to-back wins at Monza and Singapore, finished the session in a lowly 13th place.
A second 90-minute practice session was to be held on Friday afternoon, with teams looking to make the most of dry weather at Suzuka while it lasts.
Heavy rain is forecast for Friday evening ahead of final practice and qualifying on Saturday afternoon, but Sunday’s race is expected to be held in dry conditions.