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Notebook – Japanese Practice

Hamilton expects a fight with Bottas

Lewis Hamilton says he is anticipating an “interesting dynamic” with teammate Valtteri Bottas in qualifying after his Mercedes teammate benefitted from a “massive” tow of around 0.5 seconds in practice.

Bottas was three tenths down in the first sector of the lap, but recovered a lot of pace in the second sector before overturning the whole deficit to finish the lap a tenth clear. Hamilton said “There’s always time to find at this track, there’s always areas that you’re weak at. This is not, I would say, my strongest of circuits, and there’s always areas you can improve.”

“Valtteri got a massive tow on his fastest lap, he gained like half a second on the back straight. So it’s an interesting dynamic because you don’t want to be behind someone through the first part, because you need clean air, but if you’re lucky and you get a slipstream late on it’s perfect.”

Hamilton described his day as “pretty straightforward” but “good”, but seems happy with the car.

Bottas added, “Very positive day. We tried the new bits in the car we have for this weekend. Good running, felt good from the beginning and, yeah, pretty happy with the car in general.

 

Leclerc surprised that Ferrari off the pace

Charles Leclerc says it was “a bit of a surprise” that Ferrari was so far off the pace in practice. Leclerc heads into Sunday’s qualifying session looking to take a fifth consecutive pole position, but he finished the FP2 three tenths off the pace of Valtteri Bottas.

The Ferrari driver said, “I think we made the most out of our day, which was the most important, but it seems we are lacking pace this weekend, which is a bit of a surprise. Because at the end we were very strong in the last four races, we expected to be quite good here, but, yeah, it’s less the case.”

“The long run was not great compared to Mercedes. I think we were quite okay compared to Red Bull, more or less the same – I need to check the data, I haven’t checked everything.” He believes that the pace was represetive of where Ferrari are.

He would start the race from fourth should qualifying be cancelled on Sunday morning. Asked whether Ferrari could make big strides in the absence of Saturday practice, he said: “It’s going to be difficult, realistically. But I believe that I didn’t drive very well today, so I need to work on driving first.

Teammate Sebastian Vettel who was caught in traffic on his best lap in FP2 finished the session two tenths off Leclerc, says Ferrari was “not as bad as maybe you think” – but largely echoed his teammate’s view.

Adding, “I think we were quite okay, maybe just lacking a little bit of overall pace. I think there was a bit of margin, it was not the perfect day for us so there’s a bit more in the car – but you need to be honest, and Mercedes was very quick, every time they went out on track.”

 

Strategy indications

We did see more qualifying simulations in FP2 with the drivers having an extra set of tyres. Most drivers opted to do two runs on the soft tyre, which they hope to use on Sunday morning.

Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said. “We’d already decided to bring a Saturday tyre set into Friday morning, even before we heard that all Saturday running was cancelled. That allowed us to do a bit more setup work than normal and it gave the drivers a bit more experience at low fuel.”

“We then heard that the best times from the second session would be used to form the grid if qualifying cannot take place on Sunday morning. That meant we wanted to get decent times on the board, so we turned the power unit up a bit and had to run lower fuel than we would normally run.”

Ferrari had a different strategy to its rivals and split its two fast laps on fresh tyres, with one at the hour mark and one at the very end of the session.

The motivation was clear: as the session progressed, more rubber would go down on the track and, in theory, the circuit would offer up faster laps.

The reality was somewhat different as both Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel found themselves going for quick laps, while most of the rest of the cars continued on race simulations.

 

Renault struggling for pace

Renault had a very difficult practice day and finished FP2 with Daniel Ricciardo seventeenth and Nico Hulkenberg eighteenth. The session was surprising given the consistency the French manufacturer has shown since the summer break.

the team opted to go for qualifying-spec soft tyre runs late in the 90-minute session when most drivers had opted to go early, which meant the track was busy with rivals who were on long runs.

Hulkenberg said, “Our run sequence was basically out of sequence, and we wanted to run low fuel and put lap times in at the end when we thought the track would be rubbered in and its best. But obviously all the others were on high fuel, and we couldn’t get the laps, in because we kept hitting cars in traffic.”

He says it would be easy to say in hindsight it didn’t work, and that they had got the run plan out of sequence.  Hulkenberg described the day as challenging.

Renault’s quest for a good balance was complicated by a new front wing that the team introduced for Suzuka. Hulkenberg. Added “Today seemed a bit tricky in the afternoon. Other people seemed to have quite a bit of pace, and for me the balance wasn’t quite together.”

“This is obviously quite a balance circuit, but of course it’s a compromise with how P2 especially unfolded. In the morning, I felt pretty good, but somehow that faded away in the afternoon.

 

Race Pace

According to the high fuel runs in FP2, Mercedes look as if they are the team to beat. The race simulations suggest that Mercedes lead Ferrari by six tenths, which we expected them to be ahead but we didn’t know how much.

Ferrari have around three tenths over Red Bull, who have half a second over Red Bull. The single and long run pace Mercedes look to be out of reach.

However the incoming typhoon makes predicting the factors which could play into the race, the track conditions will be very different to what the teams have experienced on Friday, not least because the rain will have washed all the rubber away.

 

Sunday timetable

Local

UK time

Sunday

Qualifying 10:00–11:00 02:00–03:00
Race 14:10 06:10

 

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Jack Fielding
Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.

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