Reuters SUZUKA, Mie (Reuters) — Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton was comfortably quickest in both practice sessions for the Japanese Grand Prix on Friday as the Mercedes driver piled the pressure on title rival Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari.
Briton Hamilton, who had been fastest ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas in first practice, lapped the 5.8-kilometer long Suzuka circuit even quicker in the later session, posting a time of 1 minute 28.217 seconds.
That was 0.833 seconds quicker than Vettel, who improved from fifth in the morning to third quickest in the second session, but had no answer to Hamilton’s pace.
Bottas, second again in the afternoon, could get no closer than 0.461 seconds of the Briton’s best.
“This track is awesome,” Hamilton whooped over the radio a little over half an hour into the 90-minute session, before he had set what would be his fastest lap.
“I’m having the best day.”
Hamilton, winner of five of the last six races, leads Vettel by 50 points in the standings with four races to come after Japan.
Vettel had hoped the Suzuka circuit would suit his car better than the last two races in Singapore and Russia to ignite his fading title hopes, but on Friday’s evidence, the Mercedes pair will be hard to beat.
Vettel’s afternoon effort, while quicker than his best attempt in the first 90 minutes, was still slower than Hamilton’s morning benchmark, which the Briton had set on the less-grippy soft tires.
Max Verstappen, sixth in the morning, was fourth fastest for Red Bull ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Verstappen’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo was sixth fastest in the afternoon after being third in the morning.