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Rosberg turns up the heat at Suzuka

NEWS STORY
08/10/2016

Ahead of today's sole free practice session, the air temperature is 25 degrees C, while the track temperature is 26 degrees. Following heavy rain overnight it remains overcast with the threat of more to follow, currently there's a 30% chance of rain during the course of the session.

More importantly yesterday's rubber has been washed away and the track remains damp in places..

Nico Rosberg was quickest in both of yesterday's sessions, each time edging out his teammate, and title rival, Lewis Hamilton.

Like Malaysia however, the Red Bulls were very strong on long run pace, with Ferrari just behind.

We've yet to see Daniel Ricciardo's pace as his qualifying sim was ruined by an appearance of the VSC.

Playing into its rivals hands is the fact that following Hamilton's failure in Malaysia, all Mercedes engines have had their settings reigned in, which even if just a little must give the likes of Red Bull that extra little sniff of victory.

There were no major incidents though plenty of lock-ups, excursions, a few spins and even an octopus... but that's another story.

Romain Grosjean suffered his usual numerous problems, while both McLarens struggled. Fernando Alonso, who has the latest Honda update this weekend, had a strange spin in FP1, while Jenson Button complained of "massive" degradation, insisting that something is wrong with his car, but he's not sure what.

At Ferrari, not for the first time, Kimi Raikkonen was quicker than his teammate.

Rain or not, the stands are full, the Japanese as passionate as ever, a joy to behold.

The lights go green and Palmer leads the way, followed by Grosjean, Vettel, Wehrlein, Magnussen, Gutierrez and a whole host of others, all mindful of that 30% chance of rain.

Indeed, the session declared wet, the drivers are on a mixture of wets and inters.

"Still a little bit damp all the way up to the Esses and in the valley at T7," reports Vettel.

Ocon confirms that "soon it will be time for slicks". "There are some wet patches, but it will dry up quickly I think," he adds.

Ten minutes in and while twelve drivers have ventured out, there are no times on the sheet. Hamilton finally heads down the pitlane, on inters, followed by Button who is on mediums. All eyes on the McLaren.

"I want a really quick turnaround when I get back," says Hamilton, "there are a lot of clouds around."

Both Britons pit, Button having posted a purple in S2.

After a couple of minutes of inactivity, Alonso breaks the deadlock, heading out on the mediums.

Thankfully, if only for the fans in the stands, at the end of his installation lap the Spaniard stays out having told his team that it's "OK". His rivals watch their monitors with interest.

The Spaniard crosses the line at 1:35.935, prompting Gutierrez to head out. That was a pretty good effort from Alonso considering the conditions.

As Alonso pits, Rosberg heads out, the German also on the mediums. Onboard footage reveals Gutierrez is really struggling, the Mexican taking to the Astroturf at Spoon (T14). He finally crosses the lie at 43.949.

Gutierrez spins at T7 and is left facing the wrong way. Rather than take the risk and spin the Haas around, the Mexican, who had run wide on to the Astroturf, reverses and performs a perfect three-point turn.

Meanwhile, Rosberg posts 33.230, just a second off yesterday's best, prompting teammate Hamilton to come out and play.

"There's lot of heat coming from the right-hand side of my seat," warns Hamilton.

Hamilton posts 33.284, just 0.054s down on his Mercedes teammate.

As Vettel struggles, teammate Raikkonen goes quickest in S1. The German crosses the line at 34.274 to go third but is instantly displaced when Raikkonen stops the clock at 33.590.

The Renault duo head out on hards, the first drivers to try the orange-banded tyres this morning. Magnussen subsequently goes fifth (35.291), ahead of Alonso and Gutierrez.

Hulkenberg, also on hards, posts 34.984 to go fifth, teammate slotting in behind with a 35.188.

Verstappen (medium) goes fourth with a 33.662 as teammate Ricciardo heads out, also on the mediums.

"Massive understeer all the way up the Esses," complains Button, "massive understeer."

Vettel improves (33.987) but remains fifth.

Ricciardo posts 33.625 to go fourth, ahead of his teammate, Vettel, Hulkenberg, Magnussen and Perez.

With twenty minutes remaining, the Sauber duo and Bottas switch to the softs. Nasr goes 11th (35.237) and teammate Ericsson 12th (35.318).

Check out our Saturday gallery from Suzuka, here.

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