Nico Rosberg came out on top at the final practice ahead of championship leader Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo in the first dry session at Japan as Red Bull emerged as their closest contender
The final practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix was greeted with beautiful sunshine, hence lots of data was to be gathered due to the limited running yesterday on the track that was mostly rained-off.
With the track conditions being dry, drivers were handed with a busy one hour schedule of evaluating long and short runs alongside setting up the cars for qualifying and the race.
As the lights went green, a big queue of cars lined up to make most out of the time with the confident Red Bull of Ricciardo setting the timing screens alight.
His lap of 1:36.392 was already well over ten seconds faster than the quickest lap his team mate Kvyat managed in the wet. Bottas slotted in second ahead of Verstappen, Sainz, Massa, Hamilton, Hulkenberg, Perez, Rosberg and Ericsson in the early stages.
As Button lamented of “massive under steer”, the lap times didn’t improve as session went on, indicating the traditional switch over of focus on long runs with super-soft or medium tyres.
Will Stevens’ Marussia lost a piece of bodywork at the final chicane while Kvyat endured a massive lock up into that very part of the circuit. Meanwhile, with almost 20 minutes in, Vettel came out of the garage for his out lap on medium tyres.
The Red Bull of Ricciardo dipped into the higher 1:34s to stay atop while Massa moved up to second – 0.437s off the pace. Not far behind him was his Williams teammate Bottas and Verstappen in fourth position.
A quite morning for the Force India pair languishing in the bottom half until Hulkenberg jumped up to sixth on medium tyres. The German will have to take a three-place grid penalty for collision with Massa at the last race in the streets of Singapore.
Compared to his Red Bull teammate, Kvyat found his car very handful throughout the session and was down in tenth. Meanwhile, with a lap five tenths quicker than Ricciardo, Rosberg topped the session before the reigning world champion Hamilton lined up behind him.
The Briton, however, was not having a great time behind the wheel as he continuously worked his way to hone the setup of his Mercedes W06. Braking too late into degner 2, Kvyat’s wild continued as he ran off the track yet again as the session approached its final stages.
The session’s quickest lap came courtesy of Rosberg, who put in 1:33.995 ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Hamilton, 0.297s shy of the German.
The composed Red Bull of Ricciardo had a brilliant session completing longer runs on both tyres and will be a genuine threat for pole.
He finished the final practice session five tenths behind Rosberg in third and ahead of the Williams pair of Bottas and Massa. Raikkonen, Verstappen, Vettel, Grosjean and Sainz rounded out the top 10 as Ferrari didn’t look as impressive as they were in Singapore.