Valtteri Bottas beat Lewis Hamilton again as Mercedes dominated Friday at the Japanese GP, although Red Bull and Ferrari closed the gap in a crucial second – and final – practice at Suzuka.
It was a busier-than-usual session because of the cancellation of Practice Three on Saturday, due to the predicted impact of Typhoon Hagibis, while it is also potentially race-critical as the results of P2 will form the starting grid should qualifying – moved to Sunday morning because of the weather threat – not take place.
And it was Bottas who topped P2 with a 1:22.785 in dry conditions, acing his qualifying sim to edge Hamilton despite a spin before his first flying lap.
“Mercedes looking very good,” said Sky F1’s Karun Chandhok. “Valtteri made a mess of the first one with a spin but got it together later in the session to pip Lewis by a tenth.”
Mercedes’ W10 looked sublime through Suzuka’s famous sweeping corners, with the championship leaders bringing a package that – so far – Red Bull and Ferrari cannot contend with.
But the P2 timesheet was certainly more favourable to Merc’s rivals than the opening session.
The Silver Arrows were a second clear earlier in the morning, but by the end of Friday’s running their closest challenger – Red Bull’s Max Verstappen – was just 0.281s off the pace.
Charles Leclerc, a tenth off Verstappen, and Sebastian Vettel were fourth and fifth for Ferrari, although the Scuderia will be slightly disappointed after looking to capitalise on the best track conditions by fitting fresh soft tyres at the end of the session.
A strong lap time could, depending on the weather on Sunday morning, have seen one of their drivers claim pole for the race, but although both drivers improved they were well of Mercedes and hampered by traffic.
“I think Ferrari underperforming a little bit has been a surprise,” added Karun of the team who have won three of the last four races.
The top 10 from Practice Two1. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes3. Max Verstappen, Red Bull4. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari5. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari6. Alex Albon, Red Bull7. Carlos Sainz, McLaren8. Sergio Perez, Racing Point9. Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso10. Lando Norris, McLaren
F1 prepares for typhoonKnowing they will now not return to the Suzuka track until Sunday morning at the earliest, drivers were keen to get as many laps as possible on the board and that led to an an hour-and-a-half of persistent track activity in P2.
While it was Mercedes who appeared to have an answer to their rivals on both the soft and medium tyres, as well as the long runs, Red Bull will be encouraged after making gains with their new Honda engine, and fuel upgrade.
McLaren also enjoyed another positive practice, and finished Friday as the only team – other than the top three – to finish both sessions with both drivers in the top-10. The consistent and, seemingly still improving, Carlos Sainz was impressively seventh in P1 and P2.
Racing Point also look strong at Suzuka, with Renault not in the leading midfield hunt thus far.
Daniel Ricciardo, who nearly collided with Kevin Magnussen, and Nico Hulkenberg finished down in 17th and 18th despite heading out on track on fresh softs in the closing stages.
Like Ferrari, they encountered too much traffic.
Teams are taking precautions in keeping their garages and equipment safe as the super typhoon, the strongest of the year in Japan looms, while all team personnel and drivers are preparing to stay indoors all day on Saturday.