Suzuka (Japan), Oct 5 (IANS) Britain's Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) on Friday led the second practice session at the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, while Germany's Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) was third.
But the reigning world champion, who leads his Ferrari rival by 50 points with five races left this season, survived a close shave in the morning session at Suzuka when he deftly avoided smashing his Mercedes into Pierre Gasly's Toro Rosso.
Hamilton ended the day nearly half a second faster than his team mate Valtteri Bottas, and 0.833s quicker than his chief title rival Sebastian Vettel.
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel completed the top three behind the Mercedes duo, but the German -trailing Hamilton by 50 points coming into this event - couldn't get anywhere near his championship rival, finishing 0.833s behind the pacesetter, with Red Bull's Max Verstappen over a second off the pace in fourth.
Lewis Hamilton has admitted that he was surprised to be over three quarters of a second quicker than the Ferraris at Suzuka.
What Hamilton is convinced about is that much of the progress made at Mercedes has come from the team having properly unlocked all the potential in its auto. "It's incredible - they don't make tracks like this anymore". "It has to be one of my favourite circuits, if not the favourite", Hamilton said.
"The vehicle also felt quite good, although for me it was better in FP1 than in FP2". "I think we know what we were doing and I don't think we were trying to do something different to other Fridays. So I think we can focus on our work and now we try to obviously squeeze out everything that's left in the auto for tomorrow".
While it is too early for Hamilton's seemingly inevitable championship coronation to take place in Japan on Sunday evening, only a meltdown by team or driver stand in the way of glory this season.
Validating his theory, Wolff continued: "In the morning they were quicker through nearly every corner but they had a softer tyre".
"Every time we come to Suzuka, particularly over the past few years, the cars just get faster and faster", Hamilton said.
Its situation appears far from ideal, however, with both Vettel and Raikkonen suffering blisters during their long runs on Friday afternoon.
"I'm just loving driving more than ever; when you get in the vehicle, it's just the best".
"If we can grasp pole tomorrow that is great".
"So now I've just got to stay on it, keep going, keep working".