With the gap between championship leader Lewis Hamilton and nearest challenger Sebastian Vettel now standing at 34 points, with just five races to go, the feeling is creeping in that it might just be too much of a challenge for the Ferrari driver to overcome.
The Briton spoke on Thursday of preparing for “war” in his battle for the championship he now leads by 34 points – and it may turn out to be a fight on two fronts as the Red Bull was also quick.
Hamilton – who claimed two previous poles in Japan when the race was held at Fuji – said it was the first time in his F1 career that he felt truly confident in his vehicle at Suzuka. We still have some issues with the auto and we need to things better, but at least it’s better than one week ago.
Hamilton was second quickest to Sebastian Vettel in the opening session and topped FP2, but it was the dry running that left him optimistic after a hard Malaysia Grand Prix last weekend.
Mercedes dodged a bullet in Malaysia as Vettel finished fourth after starting from the back of the grid, while Kimi Raikkonen suffered a calamitous engine failure that knocked him out of the race.
“After Malaysia, we have found ourselves analyzing our problems, beginning to understand their causes and working on solutions”, Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. If Vettel takes pole but then starts sixth after the penalty, Ferrari would need Kimi out front to help Vettel get by Hamilton.
“The Ferraris did bring quite a big upgrade”, said the Briton, a three-time victor in Japan.
Sebastian Vettel, who ended Friday’s practice on top of the timesheets for Ferrari, was third fastest. “The auto is quick so it is up to us to put it in the right place”.
The Finn will therefore start the race at the Suzuka circuit five places lower than where he qualifies on Saturday.
Vettel will likely be his closest contender both in qualifying and on race day, as he has been all season. “Whatever the weather will be, I hope we can show our potential”.
“It’s normal that you try to understand things”. It’s a different track, we have different temperatures, so at least now we have a direction to work for.
Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team will be looking for lost speed as Formula One wraps up its Asian leg in Japan this weekend.
Hamilton’s former McLaren team-mate Jenson Button is at Suzuka and he believes the current title fight is bringing fans back to F1.
The luckless Grosjean was the first to fail to get into Q2, his 1m 30.849s best beaten fractionally by team mate Kevin Magnussen.
As the paper boat arms race between the team was really hotted up, with Force India and Renault incorporating plastic bottle and inflatable banana tech into their designs, the announcement came through that the session would start at 14:45 local time, giving us 45 minutes of potential running.