With a 34-point lead coming into the Japanese Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton’s chances of winning a fourth world title are looking good, but there are still worries about the pace that the Ferrari’s have.
It was Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari that finished fastest in a drizzly first practice session. His Ferrari finished 0.211 seconds faster than Hamilton with the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo third, 0.164 seconds adrift of Hamilton. Kimi Raikkonen was in fourth with Valtteri Bottas fifth.
Max Verstappen was back in sixth but more than a second behind RIcciardo. He didn’t have much luck as he ran wide through the gravel at the Spoon double left-hander. That led to his Red Bull bouncing over the kerb. Then his quick lap was interrupted by the red flag coming out after Carlos Sainz lost control of his Toro Rosso and crashed into the wall.
Sainz was taken to hospital as a precaution but thankfully escaped injury. Friday wasn’t a day that Sainz will want to remember and Sunday isn’t going to be a great day either as he has a 20-place grid penalty after using more than the allowed number of engine parts.
The weather proved to be a factor on Friday with light drizzle towards the end of the first practice session. That progressively worse leading to the session being disrupted in the final five minutes. Further down the field, Estaban Ocon was seventh in his Force India with the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg in eighth.
Mercedes were expected to be fastest in Japan so the fact Ferrari did so well in the first practice session will have reinforced Hamilton’s worries over the pace of his Mercedes.
The rain got worse for the second session but it was better news for Lewis Hamilton as he finished fastest. It’s best not to read much into that fact though because only five cars were able to set a time.
After the heavy rain caused a 45-minute delay, teams, including Red Bull, weren’t over keen on getting out on the wet track due to the limit of using only four sets of wet-weather tyres all weekend though the weekend forecast is for dry weather. Hamilton didn’t want to disappoint his Japanese fans so did venture out. He finished 0.799 seconds quicker than the Force India of Esteban Ocon with his team-mate Sergio Perez in third. The Williams of Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll were fourth and fifth. That’s despite Stroll sliding off the track at Turn One.
It’s been an interesting day. The car is feeling much better than it was in Malaysia,” said Hamilton. “I’m glad that we had the dry session for first practice. In second practice, there was a lot of rain, but it felt really important to go out and assess the track and see how the car was feeling. ” He added that his Mercedes felt back to normal.
It’s not all good news for Mercedes though because Valtteri Bottas has been given a five-place grid penalty after the gearbox in his car was changed before the regulation limit of six consecutive races had been reached. That will hit any hopes he has of catching second-placed Sebastian Vettel who he trails by 25 points coming into this race.
I’ll be back tomorrow with a report on qualifying as the battle between Hamilton and Vettel continues, till then enjoy your racing.