Bottas sets fastest time ahead of Japan Grand Prix with Hamilton in second

Valtteri Bottas set the fastest time in final practice ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix despite crashing out early on in the session.

The Mercedes driver has struggled to keep pace with team-mate and championship leader Lewis Hamilton in recent races.

But Bottas' time of 1 minute 29.055 seconds was enough to top the timesheet, with Hamilton right behind as the Mercedes ran on the soft compound tyre during the hour-long session.

The Finn, who has been hit with a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change, set the fastest time in the opening 20 minutes but ran wide and suffered a puncture as well as front-wing damage which saw the session red-flagged.

Just three minutes after the track was cleared, a second red flag came out as Bottas' compatriot Kimi Raikkonen crashed his Ferrari into the wall at Degner Two.

Hamilton is 34 points clear of Sebastian Vettel in the drivers' championship with five races remaining and the Briton looks to have the beating of the Ferrari man here.

Vettel was over 0.3 seconds adrift of his title rival despite running on the supersoft tyre, while the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were fourth and fifth fastest respectively.

Esteban Ocon was sixth for Force India with the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg seventh and McLaren's Fernando Alonso eighth.

The second Force India of Sergio Perez and Jolyon Palmer's Renault rounded out the top 10 - although the latter faces a 20-place grid penalty after a change of engine components.

Alonso will also drop to the back of the grid due to a 35-place penalty for several changes, while the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz has a penalty of 20 places for similar breaches to those of Palmer.


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