A cold, wet and gloomy Motegi welcomed the premier class show but at least the weather was kind enough to offer the riders more of what they’ll be served for the rest of the weekend, if the forecast is to be believed.
Under constant rain and perhaps unusually for the conditions, the Yamaha of Maverick Viñales occupied top spot in the early minutes of the session. Marc Marquez gave him about ten minutes – also giving us a fright in the process – before moving over to the top of the pile by nearly two seconds.
Title rival Andrea Dovizioso cut the massive gap to only four tenths of a second in the final twenty minutes, despite splashing and sliding through the puddles. After the Italian was back in the comfort of his garage, Scott Redding picked up the task and reduced the gap further to one and a half tenths. That did not please Marquez, who headed back out to put another second’s buffer and become the only rider to get into the 1:55s.
Aleix Espargaro showcased the agility of his Aprilia by turning it into the only bike able to get within a second of the world championship leader. The order was maintained until the flag waved, with the Spanish duo followed by Redding in the top three.
Jorge Lorenzo added further proof to his wet weather skills by getting closer and closer to the lead before Cal Crutchlow went full rodeo in turn nine in the final five minutes and Lorenzo got caught in the incident. Wild gesticulation in the gravel trap aside, the Ducati man ended the morning fourth, with the LCR rider seventh. In the two tenths separating the duo slotted Dovizioso in fifth and Johann Zarco in sixth. The Tech 3 rider took his time to get up to speed but ended the session as top Yamaha.
Alex Rins’ new aerodynamic fairing rewarded him with an eighth place in FP1, one hundredth of a second ahead of compatriot Viñales. Despite leading very early on, the Yamaha man could not keep up with his main title rival and finished the morning a second and a half adrift. The top ten was completed by an invigorated Bradley Smith, whose new contract seems to have given him a boost and two tenths in hand over his teammate.
Kohta Nozane’s last minute appointment didn’t do him any harm either, the Japanese rider being the second best Yamaha for much of the session before dropping to fifteenth, about eight tenths faster than a cautious and still-convalescent Valentino Rossi in nineteenth. Dani Pedrosa struggled badly on the cold wet track, a combination of his least favourite conditions seeing him end the session twentieth, over three seconds slower than his teammate.