George Russell and Lewis Hamilton both downplayed their pace in ranking one-two in FP2 at the Japanese Grand Prix, but both drivers were encouraged by their improvements in wet conditions.
The first session also took place in the wet and ended with Russell down in 18th and Hamilton 13th, continuing a trend for Mercedes to struggle to switch on the wet and intermediate compounds. However, FP2 saw the team running more sets of new intermediates and setting the pace, with Russell fastest and believing the lessons learned will stand Mercedes in good stead for the future.
“It’s probably not going to be that representative for this weekend but definitely good learning for the future,” Russell said. “There’s a chance on Sunday it could be wet, but it looks pretty dry tomorrow. Nevertheless, it’s always nice to end the day top of the time sheets and definitely made some improvements from FP1 as we were at the bottom. Not a bad afternoon.
“It’s good learning because you have to try and understand when you have that crossover. It does pay dividends and sometimes we’ve not capitalized this year but there will be a race at some point — might not be this year, might not be next year, might not even be the the year after — but hopefully we can capitalize.”
Despite the productive session, Russell says he is unsure what Mercedes can target this weekend with Saturday expected to bring better weather.
“To be honest, no idea because we think it’s going to be dry tomorrow. I think we’ll be fighting as always, for the top six positions. I hope we can have a shot at something better but I truly don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see. FP3 will be a crucial session for everybody and trying to fight for a good position.”
Teammate Hamilton echoed those thoughts as he says expectations for the rest of the weekend are tough to define.
“No clue — really have no idea,” Hamilton said. “If we get it when it’s dry I imagine that the Ferraris and the Red Bulls will be quite quick, but I really, really have no idea. I hope that we will be fast, but that’s a hope that continues to be the case each week!”
Despite the uncertainty over how Mercedes will fare at Suzuka, Hamilton was also encouraged by the progress when it comes to extracting pace from wet weather tires.
“There’s always things to be taken from it, so yeah. Some of the stuff with setup, some of the stuff with tire wear, tire temperatures and the balance that we’re moving around between sessions. So there’s definitely things to take from it and there’s data on downforce loads and what wing level everyone else is on. On the positive side we were able to switch our tires on today so we didn’t look slow, so that’s good.”