MotoGP has been away from Japan since before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but returned to Motegi on Friday morning.

Friday’s only practice lasted 75 minutes after the day’s schedule had to be changed due to logistical difficulties in getting the squad from Aragon to Japan last Sunday.

In the longer session, most of the first 50 minutes or so was spent preparing for the race, with first place changing hands Mark MarquezMiller and the championship leader Fabio Quartararo.

The latter led the session with a time of 1m45.807s as the rain flags flew with 45 minutes to go.

Fortunately, there was only a few spots of rain – although the stormy forecast for Saturday meant that the second half of FP1 would be crucial to the order of the qualifying group.

Suzuki Alex Rins – who debuted a set of new rear wings on his GSX-RR in FP1 – was the first rider to run a soft tire time attack half an hour into the race.

The Spaniard was first with a time of 1m45.738s, ahead of Pramac Ducati Johann Zarko on his first lap on soft tires he left with a result of 1m45.309s.

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

Photo: Gold and Goose / Images of motor sports

Aleix Espargaro the Aprilia – who comes to Japan just 17 points behind championship leader Quartararo – was ahead with half an hour to go with 1m45.233s before Zarco took a narrow lead with 1m45.210s.

Quartararo, Bastianini and Rins traded the top spots for the next 20 minutes before factory Ducati’s Miller started to light up the timing screens with just over seven minutes remaining.

The Australian set a time of 1m44.660s, bettering Rins’s 1m44.913s, and was on course to make it big in his next round.

But Miller faced slow traffic Joan MirSuzuki replaced Takuya Tsuda, which cost him around three-tenths – although he still clocked 1m44.509s to complete FP1 fastest.

Team mate Francesco Bagnaia was just 0.028s off that time in second, with Quartararo, who he trails by just 10 points after the Aragon Grand Prix, a further 0.021s behind in third.

A trio of title contenders followed suit on the timesheets as Espargaro jumped to fourth at the end, beating the VR46 Ducati rider by 1m44.577s Luca Marini and Marc Marquez.

Paul Espargaro eclipsed Honda teammate Marquez in seventh ahead of both factory KTMs Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveiraand sister, Aprilia Maverick Viñales.

Fabio Quartarara, Yamaha Factory Racing

Fabio Quartarara, Yamaha Factory Racing

Photo: Gold and Goose / Images of motor sports

Late crashes for Zarc and Bastianini Gresini cost both dearly as they look set to face Q1 when the expected rain arrives on Saturday morning in FP2.

Zarca ends Friday 11th, 0.001s outside the top 10, with Bastianini 14th behind Rins and ahead of Pramak Jorge Martin. Wounded Takaaki Nakagami – whose further involvement in his home race will be decided after FP1 – was 12th on his LCR Honda.

Yamaha Franco Morbidelli it looked like he was on course for a strong finish in FP1 after consistently finishing in the top 10 throughout the session.

But the Italian dropped to 16th at the checkered flag ahead RNF Racing‘s Cal Crutchlowwho has recent Matega experience having taken part in several on-site tests for Yamaha this year.

His teammate Deryn Binder also suffered a late autumn and was as a result of the 18th, p Marco Betseki (VR46) title Alex Marquez (LCR), Raul Fernandez (Tech3), HRC Wildcard Tetsuto Nagashima, Gresini Fabio Di Giannantonio and Miracle.

Full FP1 results:

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