Japanese GP: Lewis Hamilton and George Russell play down strong Mercedes performance in wet practice

Japanese GP: Lewis Hamilton and George Russell play down strong Mercedes performance in wet practice

George Russell led a Mercedes one-two from Lewis Hamilton in a wet second practice session in Suzuka; British duo downplayed their performance with dry conditions expected on Saturday; watch Qualifying live on Sky Sports F1 from 6am on Saturday

Last Updated: 07/10/22 12:09pm

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Sky F1’s David Croft and Karun Chandhok discuss the big talking points from Friday’s practice at Suzuka

Sky F1’s David Croft and Karun Chandhok discuss the big talking points from Friday’s practice at Suzuka

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell have admitted they are unsure as to whether Mercedes’ impressive Practice Two display will carry into the remainder of the Japanese Grand Prix weekend.

Russell’s 1:41.935 led a one-two from team-mate Hamilton by two tenths as Mercedes set the pace on a drying track in Friday’s second session, with Max Verstappen more than 0.8s off Russell’s time in third for Red Bull.

While Mercedes impressed in the wet, dry conditions are forecast for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying, with showers a possibility for Sunday’s race.

“Looking to tomorrow (Saturday), I don’t really know what to expect,” Hamilton said.

“I really have no idea, if we get it dry I imagine the Ferraris and Red Bulls will be quick but I really, really have no idea.

“I hope that we are fast but that is a hope that continues to be the case each week.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was satisfied with the performance of his tires during Friday's practice, but did not have much else to report on from a rainy day at Suzuka

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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was satisfied with the performance of his tires during Friday’s practice, but did not have much else to report on from a rainy day at Suzuka

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was satisfied with the performance of his tires during Friday’s practice, but did not have much else to report on from a rainy day at Suzuka

“On the positive side, we were able to switch our tires on today so we didn’t look slow, so that’s good.”

Mercedes have yet to win a race in what has been a hugely disappointing season for the eight-time reigning constructors’ champions, while Verstappen can seal his second world championship by winning and setting the fastest lap in the race.

Hamilton recently enjoyed a run of five consecutive podium finishes, but the seven-time world champion then retired in Belgium before fourth and fifth-placed finishes in the Netherlands and Italy, coming home ninth in Singapore last weekend.

Russell: Final practice will be crucial

Russell bounced back impressively from a torrid weekend in Singapore, where he finished outside the points for just the second time in his debut Mercedes season.

However, the 24-year-old shared a very similar sentiment to Hamilton, insisting that not a huge amount could be taken from topping Friday’s standings.

Asked about his expectations for qualifying, Russell said: “No idea because we think it’s going to be dry tomorrow.

Mercedes' George Russell says it is nice to be on top of the timesheets after second practice at Suzuka

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Mercedes’ George Russell says it is nice to be on top of the timesheets after second practice at Suzuka

Mercedes’ George Russell says it is nice to be on top of the timesheets after second practice at Suzuka

“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 in FP3 – that will be a crucial session for everybody.

“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 timesheet.

“We definitely made some improvements from FP1 as we were at the bottom of the timesheets.”

Button looking forward to qualifying ‘fight’

Sky Sports F1 pundit Jenson Button believes Mercedes would be highly competitive if showers do lead to intermediate tire running in Sunday’s race.

The abrasive nature of the Suzuka track, which is hosting an F1 race for the first time since 2019 after the coronavirus pandemic saw the last two editions cancelled, appeared to aid Mercedes in a couple of ways.

Jenson Button was trackside to cast his eye over Turns 16 and 17 during second practice at the Japanese Grand Prix

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Jenson Button was trackside to cast his eye over Turns 16 and 17 during second practice at the Japanese Grand Prix

Jenson Button was trackside to cast his eye over Turns 16 and 17 during second practice at the Japanese Grand Prix

Firstly, it enabled them to overcome their issues with heating up their tires, then in addition Red Bull and Ferrari seemed to struggle more severely with degradation.

“There is a lot of degradation on those inters and I think the pace of the Mercedes comes from later in the stint they’re able to bang in some really quick laps,” Button said.

“Race pace for them is good, consistency will be good because the degradation is very good with that car, but the problem is qualifying will probably be in the dry.

“So, it’s a tricky one but really interesting to see how quick they were in comparison with the field.”

Haas' Mick Schumacher aquaplanes and crashes in the barrier after the end of Practice One at the Japanese F1

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Haas’ Mick Schumacher aquaplanes and crashes in the barrier after the end of Practice One at the Japanese F1

Haas’ Mick Schumacher aquaplanes and crashes in the barrier after the end of Practice One at the Japanese F1

Despite his positivity about Mercedes, Button warned that Red Bull and Ferrari could be out of reach in Saturday’s dry conditions.

“It’s a fast-flowing circuit and Red Bull are great in high-speed corners,” he added. “Max (Verstappen) likes it a little bit on the nose, he likes a car that’s twitchy and that’s perfect for a circuit like Suzuka.

“If it’s dry, Ferrari will be up there as well. (Charles) Leclerc is always great at pulling out [a lap] in qualifying as well, especially in Q3. I look forward to that fight out there tomorrow.”

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