American Sargeant went a little wide on his first lap through the long left-hander that ends Suzuka’s famous Esses section when trying for his first time on the soft tyres midway through the session.

It is one of the many demanding corners on this magnificent track.

But he ran on to the kerb and then got sucked into the gravel, spinning and hitting the barriers with a sizeable impact.

Sargeant had said on Thursday that he would not be taking any extra care despite Williams’ circumstances.

“It’s Formula 1,” he said. “If you’re careful, you’re nowhere. So it’s really not even a question. You have to be committed, confident and hope nothing goes wrong.”

It remains to be seen whether the crash has any ramifications such as those in Melbourne for a team which is short on spare parts after a difficult winter.

Verstappen led Perez by 0.181 seconds, with Sainz, winner in Australia, 0.213secs off the pace.

Mercedes’ George Russell and Lewis Hamilton were fourth and fifth, ahead of the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.

McLaren’s Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris were eighth and 10th, separated by RB’s Yuki Tsunoda.

Formula 2 driver Ayumu Iwasa was 16th fastest, just under a second slower than Tsunoda, on a run-out in Daniel Ricciardo’s RB at his home event as part of his driver development programme for Red Bull.

A number of teams have significant upgrades, among them Red Bull and Aston Martin, both of whom have revised aerodynamics, particularly around the floor.



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