SUZUKA, Japan — Mercedes may have dominated Friday practice at Suzuka but Valtteri Bottas says the team is expecting a much closer fight for pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton led one-twos for Mercedes in both sessions with Bottas 0.446s adrift in FP1 and 0.461s behind in FP2. In the afternoon session, only Bottas and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel managed to get within a second of Hamilton’s blistering pace, albeit with a time that was 0.833s slower.
However, the Finn says you only need to look back one week to see how much things can tighten up ahead of qualifying, even after enjoying a comfortable Friday.
“In Russia, it seemed that we were a lot ahead of everyone else on Friday but in qualifying it gets more intense,” Bottas said. “Also, with the changing weather, we’re not going into tonight thinking we’re comfortably in the lead or anything. We’re going to work as hard as usual to find all the improvements we can.”
On a personal note, Bottas confirmed that he was far happier with the set-up of his Mercedes in the morning session. The gap may have remained the same in the afternoon but his laps appeared to be a lot scrappier with more lock-ups and detours of the track.
“To be honest, it was better for me in FP1. The first feelings were, overall, pretty good,” Bottas said. “[In FP2] I was struggling a little bit with understeer but it feels okay in every corner. I think it was a good starting point for the weekend.
“The weather for tomorrow is looking very different, so we need to see. I think on Sunday it’s going to be dry too. It’s also going to be a lot warmer, so that’s going to be different.
“We have a full night ahead to investigate all the set-up changes and everything.”