Mercedes made it a pair of one-two results in Friday’s practice sessions as Lewis Hamilton was fastest in FP2 for the Japanese Grand Prix.
During the qualifying simulations on supersoft tires, Hamilton posted a 1:m28.217s to lead teammate Valtteri Bottas by 0.461s, a similar gap to the one seen in FP1. Sebastian Vettel was third quickest but Ferrari and Red Bull were both comfortably off the pace, with the German over 0.8s adrift of Hamilton. On his long run on the same compound, Vettel then complained of blisters on both rear tires, with Ferrari having brought a large number of supersoft tires to Suzuka.
Max Verstappen was fourth but over a second slower than Hamilton, and later complained of his car handling like he was in Rallycross (Red Bull acknowledged a potential issue). The lead Red Bull had an advantage of 0.2s over Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo, although Raikkonen made a mistake in the final sector on his best lap. Raikkonen dipped two tires on the grass under braking for the chicane, but still managed to make the apex despite the error.
Esteban Ocon was seventh fastest ahead of Romain Grosjean, with Ocon ending up in a gap between the top three teams and the rest of the midfield with a 0.4s advantage over the Haas. Grosjean led an extremely tight midfield that saw four cars also including Marcus Ericsson, Brendon Hartley and Sergio Perez covered by just 0.07s.
Grosjean’s teammate Kevin Magnussen was down in 16th and skipped the chicane during his long run, a mistake also made by Bottas, Ocon and Carlos Sainz on old tires.
While Ericsson and Hartley rounded out the top 10, their respective Sauber and Toro Rosso teammates suffered tricky sessions. Charles Leclerc did not set a representative supersoft lap time after aborting his low fuel run, while Gasly only emerged with 15 minutes remaining due to a fuel cell problem.
Toro Rosso had noted the issue before Gasly had even gone out at the start of the session and worked on the problem throughout the afternoon, finally managing to complete a busy spell of running in the closing stages. That allowed him to climb up to 13th place in the final standings and relegated Stoffel Vandoorne to last place, a full second off teammate Fernando Alonso having sat out the opening practice session.