Rain may have meant that only five drivers succeeded in setting a lap time during today’s practice sessions at Suzuka, but the weather marked a ‘return to normal’ for Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes.
While Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was fastest in the dry during the morning laps, Hamilton finished fastest in the second free practice session (FP2).
Hamilton leads Vettel in the F1 drivers’ championship by 34 points going into the Japanese Grand Prix and is prepared “for war” as he tries to extend his advantage over his rival.
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He told The Guardian: “I’ve got to make sure I’m fit, healthy, focused. Basically prepare for war. That’s what I try and do, make sure every weekend I’m the best prepared I can be.”
After his leading time in today’s second practice, the British driver said he was pleased with his car’s performance.
He told F1.com: “It’s been an interesting day. The car is feeling much better than it was in Malaysia. It feels back to normal, so I’m ready to race.”
Mercedes technical director James Allison was also pleased with the team’s progress, but warned that the rain means this weekend could be a bit of a “scramble”.
He said: “Although that may be an unusual session, it was actually quite a good one”. After both cars got their laps done, and a feel for high and low fuel, he said the team were “reasonably pleased with the initial balance and performance”.
“Obviously after losing all of FP2 the rest of the weekend is still going to be something of a scramble,” he added. “But at least we go into tomorrow knowing how we ought to set the car up for both qualifying and race.”
Bottas hit by penalty for gearbox change
While Hamilton is pleased with his car’s performance in Japan, Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas will take a five-place grid drop because of an unscheduled gearbox change, Sky Sports reports.
It means Bottas will not be able to start on the grid higher than sixth place.
He said: “My run with the soft tyres was good but with the supersoft I didn’t really gain any grip. The car did feel better than it did in Malaysia but we still need to work on things to make the car quicker.”
Vettel hopeful in Japan
After a tough few weeks, Vettel says Ferrari are confident of a good race in Japan.
Ferrari recorded a double did-not-finish in Singapore, then had engine problems in Malaysia last weekend. Vettel is hopeful the team can show what it can do on Sunday.
He told Sky Sports: “The results were not the best in the last couple of races but I think we are strong so we have reason to be confident. And I’m pretty sure on Sunday we will be able to show what we can do.
“If it stays wet then we need to improve because the last time it was wet was Monza and we were not very strong. Malaysia was better but I hope we’ve learned our lessons. The car is quick so it is up to us to put it in the right place.”
Massa ‘very high’ on Williams list for 2018
Felipe Massa remains very much in consideration for a seat at Williams in 2018 despite the team confirming they will be evaluating Paul di Resta and Robert Kubica.
Chief technical officer Paddy Lowe said Massa is one of the options under consideration. Lowe told F1.com: “Of course Felipe is very much in the frame – very, very high on our list of possibilities.
“But we owe it to ourselves to take a look around and see what could be the best option for the team going forwards.”
Sainz pays the price
Toro Rosso driver Carlos Sainz is set to start the Japanese Grand Prix from the back of the grid after crashing in practice this morning.
The Spaniard told F1.com that even the smallest of mistakes can be punished by the challenging Suzuka track.
“The accident was a bit of a pity,” said Sainz. “I didn’t expect it to happen. I just clipped the outside kerb a bit too much and it sent me into a spin and then into the barriers.
“It looked quite incredible on the TV, but luckily it wasn’t such a big one from inside the cockpit. We can’t forget that a minimal miscalculation here can make you pay a big price.”
TV coverage of the Japanese Grand Prix
Sky Sports F1’s coverage of the Japanese Grand Prix starts on Sunday morning with the track parade at 4.30am (UK time) followed by the race at 6am. Channel 4 will show highlights of the race at 3pm on Sunday.
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