RACE DEBRIEF

    0.833s – that was the gap between FP2 pacesetter Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, suggesting Mercedes’ have a considerable pace advantage over Ferrari in Japan. But Silver Arrows boss Toto Wolff isn’t getting carried away – and believes their title rivals were holding back on Friday…

    Championship leader Hamilton got his Japanese Grand Prix weekend off to a positive start, topping the opening practice timesheet, with the leading Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen 0.936s off the pace. He then went even quicker on the supersoft rubber in Free Practice 2, with Vettel unable to get anywhere near his title rival.

    Wolff, however, refuses to accept that his team currently have a stronger package than the Ferraris this weekend, and expects the Italian squad to up their game when qualifying arrives on Saturday.

    “Yeah, they turned it (their engine) down a bit,” said Wolff. “We are actually losing a bit through the fast corners. So the lap time flatters us a little bit at the moment. We’ll see how that looks in qualifying tomorrow.

    “In the morning they were quicker through almost every corner but they had softer rubber. When we had both the same tyre, we seem to be gaining a bit on the straight line.

    “That makes me doubt whether they have really shown their full performance. Through the Esses they are a bit quicker, so it’s neck-and-neck even though the lap times seems to show a larger gap.”

    Formula One World Championship
    "It’s neck and neck even though the lap times seems to show a larger gap" - Toto Wolff

    Vettel wasn’t too concerned about the gap either, with the German – who trails Hamilton by 50 points in the championship with just five races to go – hopeful that overnight improvements will stand him in good stead for qualifying and the Grand Prix.

    “You can always do something, the question is whether it works,” said Vettel. “Obviously you don’t want to commit suicide. If we attack, we will still try to be reasonable. I think it’s a long race.

    “Today we were probably sliding a bit too much and therefore damaging the tyres a bit more than others. I think overall it’s been ok, a clean Friday.

    “There were no interruptions, no issues with the car or anything. So we can focus on our work. Now we try to squeeze out everything that is left in the car for tomorrow.”

    Vettel will be hoping to deliver in qualifying on Saturday, having taking four consecutive poles at Suzuka from 2009-12. He also won here four times between 2009 and 2013 – and knows a fifth triumph is all but essential at this stage to keep alive his hopes of winning a fifth world title.

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