Lewis Hamilton shocked by Mercedes' pace advantage in Japan practice

SUZUKA, Japan — Lewis Hamilton admits he was surprised to see such a gap between himself and the rest of the field after Friday practice at the Japanese Grand Prix.

The four-time world champion was in a class of his own to lead Mercedes one-twos in both sessions as Ferrari and Red Bull failed to match his pace. Teammate Valtteri Bottas was just under half a second adrift in both sessions while in FP2 title-rival Sebastian Vettel ensured he would be the quickest non-Mercedes by finishing third fastest but still 0.833s off the pace.

Hamilton, who is searching for a fourth consecutive win in Formula One, said “definitely not” when asked if he expected to be enjoying such an advantage over his rivals after the opening two practice sessions.

“I didn’t know where we were going to stand alongside the Red Bulls and Ferraris,” Hamilton said. “The Red Bulls were really quick here last year and naturally so, the Ferraris.

“I just came here with the mindset of I know where I’ve got to get the car, I know there’s always areas to improve. There’s two or three corners where I know I need to kill it this weekend and I got straight onto it. Straight away I was much, much better than I’ve ever been through those particular corners.

“I got my balance in quite a nice place so I was just enjoying it. Now I’ve just got to stay on it, keep going, keep working.”

After setting his best lap in FP2, an enthusiastic Hamilton could be heard on the radio saying, “this track is awesome; I’m having the best day”. Naturally, Hamilton was asked after his session what makes a confident flying lap around Suzuka so enjoyable.

“They don’t make tracks like this anymore. It has to be one of my favourite circuits, if not the favourite,” Hamilton said. “With these new cars we are much faster than we were last year so just every time you come here the cars are getting faster and faster, the track is just incredible.

“There’s very little room for run off, a little touch of grass and you are in the wall. It’s very marginal being on the limit and it’s so quick through that first section, being that you go down into Turn 1, up through the Essess and then you are braking down into Turn 8, it’s very cool.

“When you get in the car it’s just the best, it’s so much fun and I’m truly grateful to have the opportunity I have. I won’t be doing it forever so you’ve just got to cherish the moments.”