Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen could only get within 0.443s of Hamilton in FP2, with Sepang victor Sebastian Vettel a further seven-tenths back, but despite that the reigning world champion feels that the Italian team will provide a stern challenge to the Silver Arrows on Sunday.
“It was quite close between us and Ferrari,” Hamilton said. “They look just as fast as they were last time out and Nico (Rosberg, Mercedes team mate) was quick as well, so we definitely have a race on. But I feel like I've got some improvements to make and I think we've got the pace to stay ahead.
Mercedes-Benz Motorsport director Toto Wolff echoed Hamilton’s sentiments, suggesting that the team's advantage over one lap appeared to diminish over longer runs.
“Performance wise, we look competitive over one lap - although Nico didn't quite get his lap together today,” Wolff said. “But Ferrari are close - and closer still on the long runs. We saw in Malaysia that we need to get every detail right to put together a winning weekend, so this will be our focus tonight as we do our analysis and tomorrow in preparation for qualifying. It will be an exciting battle.”
However, despite being wary of Ferrari’s pace, Hamilton was buoyed by the improvements Mercedes have made to the F1 W06 Hybrid since Sepang.
“Today was definitely an improvement on Friday in Malaysia,” he said. “It was good to get both sessions in and that puts me in a stronger position. The team has done an amazing job to find some improvements in the car.
“Balance-wise it's way better than the last race and it was generally feeling really good. I don't know how long I went on each compound but it felt good on the long and short runs. The prime perhaps didn't feel as good as the option but I'll have to go and analyse the data to see where we are compared to the others.”
For his part, Vettel remained coy when asked if he could challenge Mercedes for pole position in qualifying, saying: "They were very strong today. For us the most important thing is to make a step forward. There are a few things that we can improve."