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Hamilton hails ‘best session of the year’ for Mercedes in Japan as Russell admits pace was a ‘pleasant surprise’

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SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 05: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes looks on in the garage

Lewis Hamilton was left encouraged by Mercedes’ performance in Friday’s first practice session at the Japanese Grand Prix, with the seven-time world champion stating that the car had felt at its best so far this season.

The Silver Arrows have endured a difficult start to the campaign while their weekend last time out in Australia proved to be particularly challenging, given that both Hamilton and team mate George Russell retired from the race.

READ MORE: FP1: Verstappen fastest during first practice at Suzuka as Sargeant crashes out heavily

However, the W15 seemed to work well in the cool conditions at Suzuka on Friday morning. Russell and Hamilton ended the hour in P4 and P5 respectively, while running in FP2 was limited due to the wet conditions on track. Hamilton briefly made an appearance in the session, but Russell was amongst those to stay in the garage.

Reflecting on what the team could take from their mileage in FP1, Hamilton sounded a positive note as he explained: “It was a great session. It was a really good session for us. It was the best session that we’ve had this year, it was the best the car has felt this year so far, so it felt really positive and I was really excited.

“This is a circuit that every driver loves to drive. In the last couple of years we’ve had a really difficult balance, really difficult car and a difficult balance to drive here.

SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 05: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

Hamilton was left feeling more positive about the W15 after Friday's practice at the Japanese Grand Prix

“And given the difficult last few races we’ve had, great work’s been done this past week and we just seem to have hit the ground a bit more in a sweeter spot, so I haven’t really made any changes since!”

In terms of the picture for the rest of the weekend at Suzuka, Hamilton voiced his hope that the team can continue to work from this solid starting point.

READ MORE: FP2: Piastri sets fastest time as rain leads to limited running during second practice in Japan

“It’s hard to know [how things look],” said the Briton. “As I said, I think we’ve got a better platform or baseline to start from, so as long as we don’t make too many changes and eff it up! I think probably just stay where we are.

“It’s a shame we didn’t get that [FP2] session. They have changed the tyre rule, so therefore no-one goes out and runs on the intermediate, which just doesn’t make sense really, but there you go.”

While the cooler conditions forecast for the weekend look to be suited to Mercedes’ car, the W15 has generally struggled in high-speed corners. On whether this characteristic could be a concern for the squad, Russell reflected on the positives they could take from their showing in practice.

SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 05: George Russell of Great Britain driving the (63) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

Russell ended FP1 in fourth place, before missing out on running in FP2

“[In] FP1 we definitely performed better than we expected, so that was a pleasant surprise,” he commented. “The car was feeling really nice to drive, and Lewis and I were really happy with the balance.

“It has been performing better when it’s been slightly colder, but we’ve been doing a lot of test items to try and make that car a little bit more consistent when conditions are variable, so time will tell. FP2 was definitely a miss for everybody as we had some interesting things we wanted to try, but that’s the nature of Formula 1 sometimes.”

READ MORE: Russell feared ‘can of worms’ being opened if Alonso had gone unpenalised after Australian GP

Pushed on whether he has any predictions for Saturday based on Friday’s action, Russell responded: “No, I think it’s going to be very challenging because it’s a clear one-lap tyre in qualifying. You can’t do multiple laps on the tyre.

“Most drivers may only have three sets for qualifying, four sets for qualifying, so you’ve got to be nailing those laps on every opportunity if you want any hope of getting to Q3 with two sets of new tyres. But I think you’re going to see quite high degradation, and that’s where the focus is going to be.”

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