Title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton both topped a practice session each, ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix. Vettel was two tenth faster during first practice with Hamilton two tenths behind and Daniel Ricciardo third.
While Hamilton was top of just a handful of drivers who set a lap time in a wet second session going seven tenths faster than Force India’s Esteban Ocon.
Mercedes “back to normal”
Lewis Hamilton says that his Mercedes is “back to normal” after his struggles to match Ferrari at the last two Grand Prix’s. Though Hamilton took victory in Singapore and second in Sepang, Mercedes has struggled to match Ferrari on outright pace.
In FP1, Hamilton was two tenths off Vettel while their team-mates Valtteri Bottas was just under a second off the pace. Kimi Raikkonen was half a second off Vettel’s pace. Both teams have brought upgrades this weekend, but still look as if they remain on an even level.
Hamilton says he is pleased to report that his car felt competitive again. “It’s been an interesting day, the car is feeling much better than it was in Malaysia. The car feels back to normal, so I’m ready to race.”
“I’m glad that we had the dry session for FP1. In FP2, there was a lot of rain, but it felt really important to go out and assess the track and see how the car was feeling as the car was not good in the wet in Malaysia. It was important to find out if the car was still misbehaving.”
Vettel said “I think we had a decent morning. We tried a lot of things and it was good to feel the power of the car. This afternoon was expected to be wet. We would have loved to run a little bit more.”
“The results of the last two races were not good, but the car is strong. We have every reason to be confident and I am sure that on Sunday we’ll be able to show what we can do.”
Valtteri Bottas is set for a five place grid penalty after Mercedes changed his gearbox. The change is because he is in breach of the rule that states gearboxes must last for six consecutive races, unless they failed to finish the previous race.
Bottas previously took a five-place grid penalty for changing a gearbox in July’s Silverstone race. It is another blow as he still has a mathematical chance of winning the championship and on track today he was over a second down on Hamilton.
No idea why Sainz crashed
Carlos Sainz says he has no explanation as to why he lost control of his Toro Rosso during first practice, however concedes that it was his fault.
The Spaniard lost control of his car forty minutes into the session losing control as he exited the hairpin. That brought out the red flag and caused heavy damage to his car, however he did manage to get out in FP2.
Sainz told reporters “It was one of those accidents where you don’t have an explanation. It was a mistake from my side, for sure, and something I will obviously not like in the future to repeat.”
“The mechanics fixed it in one and half, two hours. They did an amazing job because of that, and congratulations for that, it shows the commitment they have, and I really appreciate it.” Sainz already knew before the crash he was going to start at the back as he has new elements fitted to the power unit.
Speaking about qualifying he said “I will have to try and save some tyres for the race, to have the fastest race possible, so tomorrow is a not a normal day for me in that regard.”
“Working on long run preparation, working towards the race, because it doesn’t matter where I qualify, I will start last.”
Formula One bosses are pushing and holding talks with Vietnam about holding a race. Earlier this year former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said he could have done a deal with Vietnam but turned the chance down as he felt there were enough races in Asia.
But F1 commercial chief Sean Bratches has since said he wants more Asian street races with a particular focus on holding them in “iconic cities”. There are also talks going on about holding another race in China, with the capital Beijing being the preferred option.
Red Bull didn’t appear to be that far off the top two either as Daniel Ricciardo was third fastest which is suggesting that they ould be in that mix at the front. This week, we know Max Verstappen has talked about the team needing to hit the ground running earlier next season.
This on paper would appear more favourable to Red Bull than Sepang, as it is low downforce high grip circuits. However the power deficit to Mercedes and Ferrari in a straight line could be the the teams weakness making them vulnerable.
Ricciardo said “Our pace was pretty good, but we still need to find a good compromise with the downforce we are going to run here. We were relatively close to Mercedes and Ferrari, so not a bad day.”
“But we know they will always go a lot quicker so we need to find a few more tenths if we want to battle with them in the dry on Sunday. I think we were losing a lot on the straight and I don’t think it was just engine today.”
McLaren and Honda are both looking for a strong final Japanese Grand Prix as the pair prepare to part ways at the end of the season. In FP1 Stoffel Vandoorne was tenth and Fernando Alonso twelfth.
You have to say that’s a respectable performance from McLaren, Suzuka is a circuit where you would of thought they might be futher back. In FP1, Stoffel Vandoorne was tenth and Fernando Alonso twelfth that is not too bad given how tight the mid field is.
Fernando Alonso said “As predicted, we had a Friday with only one dry session, so we tried different things in the first session, and did as many laps as we could.”
“The car was behaving well on a circuit where performance is mainly expressed in the fast corners of the first sector. It feels special because there’s so much grip out there.”
Stoffel Vandoorne said “The car felt nice around here. Suzuka’s a high-speed circuit with lots of direction changes and, especially with the downforce and wider tyres we have this year, they’re very impressive in the first sector; very exciting to drive.”
Qualifying could be a battle between all the top three teams who appear quite evenly match on circuit. Mercedes and Ferrari appear within a few tenths of each other, but as ever the weather could play apart in the fight for pole as there could be a few clouds around for the session.
Pole is one of the more difficult circuits for drivers to overtake on. But we know Suzuka is unforgiving and drivers need to be wary when pushing as a mistake could mean crashing out. Also, that equally means that being on track at the right time is key.