Max Verstappen returned to the top of the timesheets in FP1, leading Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris in a packed session at Suzuka.
Charles Leclerc finished fourth, ahead of a surprise fifth for AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda, with Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso in sixth.
Oscar Piastri placed seventh, ahead of Alex Albon in eighth, Liam Lawson in ninth while Lance Stroll, returning from his Singapore accident, rounded off the top 10.
Verstappen hits the ground running
The two-time world champion was the first man on track and showed clear intent to attack the session from the start, as Red Bull looked to make amends for a poor Singapore Grand Prix performance.
It took him 15 minutes to lead the McLaren’s atop the timesheets by 1.6 seconds, as he showed a glimpse of the true performance they have in hand this weekend.
Although he had little to complain about during FP1, the Dutchman was less than pleased with George Russell’s efforts to get out of his way during a fast lap early on in the session. However, replays showed the Brit doing all he good to get out of the way, even touching the grass as he navigated the tight sector one.
Ferrari clear second best
Carlos Sainz, who has excelled behind the wheel of his Ferrari lately, found himself just six tenths behind Max Verstappen after his soft tyre run, and a whole four tenths ahead of his team-mate Charles Leclerc.
It appears that Ferrari are best placed to pick up the pieces this weekend, should Red Bull fail to win.
Sergio Perez finished 11th, over a second behind his Red Bull team-mate and will no doubt hope to improve in FP2, with Ferrari looking ready to pounce on any poor performances.
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More midfield drama to come
A handful of drivers tested tyres for Pirelli, including Carlos Sainz, who was covered in flow-viz paint as he left the pit-lane early in the session thanks to McLaren.
Logan Sargeant took an adventure off the track at the second Degner corner, avoiding damage on his Williams, despite a rough ride across the kerbs.
Both Oscar Piastri and Lewis Hamilton followed suit as they pushed to find time from their cars later in the session.
The teams will now be hard at work in a bid to fine-tune their cars ahead of their second running at Suzuka during FP2.
Japanese Grand Prix FP1 practice results - Friday September 22
1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull): 1:31.647s
2. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari): +0.626s
3. Lando Norris (McLaren): +0.745s
4. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari): +0.927s
5. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri): +0.950s
6. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin): +1.003s
7. Oscar Piastri (McLaren): +1.066s
8. Alex Albon (Williams): +1.344s
9. Liam Lawson (AlphaTauri): +1.358s
10. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin): +1.393s
11. Sergio Perez (Red Bull): +1.396s
12. Pierre Gasly (Alpine): +1.482s
13. George Russell (Mercedes): +1.663s
14. Nico Hulkenberg (Haas): +1.801s
15. Esteban Ocon (Alpine): +1.869s
16. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes): +2.052s
17. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo): +2.213s
18. Kevin Magnussen (Haas): +2.328s
19. Logan Sargeant (Williams): +2.565s
20. Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo): +3.184s
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