Verstappen big in Japan but Hamilton posts fastest time
Max Verstappen was all smiles after the teenage rookie made a hugely impressive Formula One debut yesterday at typhoon-threatened Suzuka.
At 17 years and three days, Verstappen became the youngest driver to participate in an official Grand Prix meeting when he set the 12th-fastest time in the first practice session, only four-tenths of a second off his Toro Rosso team-mate Daniil Kvyat.
The former world champion Jacques Villeneuve has been very critical of the team's choice of such a young driver, but on a demanding circuit the Belgian had driven only on PlayStation and in the simulator - and in a 2014 car he had not previously experienced - Verstappen looked the business.
"Of course, I was not even close to the limit; I was just driving safely without doing any crazy stuff," he said afterwards on a warm and sunny day when concerns over Typhoon Phanfone were temporarily alleviated.
"For me, the main thing today was just to try to make a lot of laps, getting used to the car and the track, because it's not an easy one.
"But when I saw the time on the screens I was happy.
"The biggest challenge was just getting used to the car and all its systems, and working with the whole team. That was new to me too, but I think it all went well."
Verstappen watched calmly as during the afternoon the World Championship leader Lewis Hamilton turned the tables on his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg to post the day's fastest time of 1min 35.078sec, against the German's 1:35.318. But it was a scrappy session, with accidents for Kamui Kobayashi, Esteban Gutierrez and Daniel Ricciardo and two red-flag periods as cars were cleared away.
"The gap changes from track to track between us and other cars but it looks pretty good so far this weekend," Hamilton said. "To come here at one of the most demanding tracks for downforce and to be that competitive is fantastic.
"It's amazing what this team have done. The pace looks good but it's a track that's very hard on tyres, especially the rears; one minute you have the one-lap pace and one minute you have the long-run pace, so it's a very fine line.
"Qualifying is going to be very important as it's quite difficult to overtake here, and we don't know what's going to happen with the weather. It's such a challenging circuit but we always come to the weekend prepared for everything. I just want to race."
The reigning champion Sebastian Vettel, who was fifth-fastest for Red Bull in the second session and ninth in the first, acknowledged the Mercedes duo are likely to be out of reach.
But the German is still targeting a podium place and believes the possibility of wet weather could level the playing field.
"I think we can definitely do better than fifth, but we've probably hit the limiter in third position," Vettel said. "Mercedes seems to be very, very quick around here but I think we can improve, especially on the short run.
"It would be nice to fight [with Hamilton and Rosberg] and who knows if it rains? Other than that I think it's the usual suspects - so Williams, McLaren seems to be a bit stronger here and Ferrari."
Red Bull's Ricciardo got off line exiting the final corner and crashed into the outer wall after skipping across the gravel bed, damaging his car too badly to continue. "I made a mistake," he admitted. (© Independent News Service)
Japanese Grand Prix, live, Sky Sports F1, tomorrow, 6.30am
Wet, wet, wetter - F1 on typhoon alert
The worst impact from a typhoon lurking off the coast of Japan will be felt on Monday, the day after the Japanese Grand Prix, and could affect preparations for the next race in Russia, the sport's weather forecaster Ubiment warned yesterday.
The forecast for tomorrow remains unchanged, with the race expected to be held in wet conditions with occasional heavy rain drenching the circuit.
Teams face a quick turnaround after the race and must transport equipment to Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix next weekend.
"Keeping to this tight schedule will be wholly dependent on how the typhoon behaves and will surely be a tough challenge," Ubimet said.