RACE DEBRIEF

    "This track is awesome - I'm having the best day”. That was Lewis Hamilton’s assessment during second practice in Japan - and the timesheets backed up the Mercedes star, who blew his rivals away on Friday…

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    Having topped the timesheet in FP1, the world championship leader repeated those exploits in Free Practice 2 – and in some style. Shod with the supersoft rubber for the first time this weekend, he clocked an impressive 1m 28.217s, finishing four tenths ahead of Silver Arrows team mate Valtteri Bottas in second.

    Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel completed the top three behind the Mercedes duo, but the German -trailing Hamilton by 50 points coming into this event - couldn’t get anywhere near his championship rival , finishing 0.833s behind the pacesetter, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen over a second off the pace in fourth.

    The sister Prancing Horse of Kimi Raikkonen, a Japanese Grand Prix winner back in 2005 with McLaren, pipped Verstappen’s team mate Daniel Ricciardo to fifth - but only just, the Finn edging that battle by going 0.015s quicker than the Australian.

    In what proved to be a largely error-free session, Force India's Esteban Ocon was again the quickest car outside the usual top three teams, replicating his FP1 form by bringing his VJM11 home in P7 ahead of Haas’s Romain Grosjean.

    Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who will be replaced by Raikkonen next season before taking up a reserve driver role with the Swiss team, went one better than his earlier performance by finishing ninth, with Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley securing a morale-boosting 10th place.

    For Hartley's team mate Pierre Gasly it was a frustrating session as he was confined to the garage for the majority of running with an apparent fuel pump issue. The Frenchman eventually managed to get 10 laps under his belt - though, as a consolation, he did clock the 13th fastest lap of the afternoon.

    So, it’s Mercedes who seemingly have the upper hand heading into final practice and qualifying. But were Ferrari holding some pace back? We’ll find out on Saturday…

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