Friday’s practice sessions at Suzuka took on extra importance owing to the impact the incoming Typhoon Hagibis is already having on the F1 schedule. The track will be closed on Saturday, with qualifying moved to Sunday morning and Practice Three cancelled altogether.
Mercedes have dominated the Japanese GP in the hybrid era and they picked up where they left off here, with Bottas pipping Hamilton in both sessions and their nearest rivals three tenths of a second adrift.
Ferrari have secured the last four pole positions but asked by Sky Sports F1 if he thought they have enough speed to match Mercedes on Sunday morning, Charles Leclerc claimed: “I don’t think so. I think Mercedes is very, very quick this weekend.
“Actually, FP2 I think everyone approached it like a qualifying because we are not sure to do qualy on Sunday morning [if the weather remains bad]. So I believe this is more or less the real picture for the weekend and they seem to be very quick.”
Sebastian Vettel, fifth-fastest in P2, added: “We saw today that Mercedes was very fast and feeling very comfortable straight away. Maybe they did a step forward, maybe the track suits them more than recently, a lot of things that might be the case.”
So are Mercedes back ahead?
Having introduced fewer updates onto the W10 in recent months, as they focus more on 2020 development, Mercedes tested what they termed a ‘small’ upgrade on Friday with changes centered around the car’s sidepods.
“We tried the new bits in the car and it felt good since the beginning,” said Bottas, who was faster than Hamilton by a tenth in P2 despite an early spin.
“Happy with the car in general, just minor things with the balance to tweak. Both short and long runs today felt good.”
The Finn added: “We still need to remember it’s only practice. I do still feel that the gains we’ve made with the car so that’s always a very nice feeling. We can push the car further than before. I think we need to focus on ourselves, knowing that it’s going to be close on Sunday with qualifying and the race.”
Although there was little to choose between the leading Mercedes drivers on Friday, Hamilton nonetheless said “Valtteri showed good pace” and there was still areas he can improve for Sunday.
“It’s a work in progress. When you’re first going on track you’re pushing the limits, but there’s always time to find at this track and there are always areas that you’re weak at,” said the world champion.
“This is not what I would say is one of my strongest circuits and there’s always areas you can improve. Valtteri got a massive tow on his fastest lap and gained like half a second on the back straight, so…”
Mercedes’ final P2 advantage – 0.281 seconds – was over Max Verstappen in the lead Red Bull, and not the Ferraris, who finished fourth and fifth in both sessions.
“The first practice was not so good but the second practice we improved already a lot and that seemed a bit more promising. But Mercedes is very quick and we have some more work to do. But at least it was a decent recovery.”
F1’s Super Sunday: The revised Race-Day schedule
Sunday, October 13
1.30am: Japanese GP Qualifying build-up (simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event)
2am: JAPANESE GP QUALIFYING (simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event)
3.30am: Paddock Walkabout (simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event)
4.10am: #Ask Crofty: Damon Hill Special
4.30am: Japanese GP Pit Lane Live (simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event)
5.30am: Japanese GP On The Grid (simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event)
6.10am: THE JAPANESE GRAND PRIX LIVE! (simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event)
8am: Japanese GP Paddock Live (simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event)
9am: Japanese GP Notebook (simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event)
9.30am: Japanese GP replay (simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event)
12pm: Japanese GP highlights