Mercedes in search of lost speed at Suzuka

Getty Images

Getty Images

With five races remaining, Hamilton leads Vettel by 34 points in the driver's championship.

Max Verstappen, sixth quickest and almost a second slower than Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo after his quick lap was interrupted by the red flag for Sainz's accident, had a particularly edgy time.

"If it stays wet then we need to improve because the last time it was wet was Monza and we were not very strong". "I think we should have been quicker than we were (in Malaysia) but Suzuka should be much more in the window".

"Generally, the hotter places we struggle a little bit more, being that it's cooler (in Japan) hopefully (it will) bring it back more into our window".

Ferrari have been quicker than Mercedes in the past two races but Mercedes have recorded better results at the end of each race.

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"It was important for me because the auto feels different in practice one to last week, massively, massively different".

The reigning world champion will be on Sky Sports as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel go head-to-head.

This time he is riding a run of good fortune, with an opening lap crash for Vettel in Singapore dealing the German a significant setback in a race that the Briton went on to win.

Vettel had a new engine for Sepang and the four times victor in Japan will expect to be quick on Sunday, with fears for his car's gearbox subsiding since he and Canadian Lance Stroll collided on the post-race slowing down lap.

A win in Suzuka would move Hamilton a step closer to a third F1 title in four years with Mercedes and his fourth overall.

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There were already positives for him going into the weekend, with Ferrari saying his gearbox was undamaged in a freaky collision with Williams rookie Lance Stroll on the cool down lap after the Malaysian race.

FP1 was largely dry but interrupted by a red flag caused by Carlos Sainz crashing, before FP2 saw only 45 minutes of green-flag time and a total of 30 laps completed by 14 drivers due to rain.

But both he and Hamilton also have to contend with a resurgent Red Bull.

Verstappen was behind the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen and Hamilton's team-mate Valtteri Bottas. They could act as kingmakers in the title battle between Hamilton and Vettel.

"The vehicle did feel better than it did in Malaysia, but we still need to work on things to make the auto quicker", he said.

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"We weren't expecting much useful running at all in either of the sessions". "If Ferrari has started at the front they would have been tough to beat".

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