‘I’m having the best day’: Lewis Hamilton flexes his muscle
MERCEDES was untouchable in both practice sessions at the Japanese Grand Prix on Friday, signalling what could be the end of the 2018 Ferrari title challenge.
The Prancing Horse has just five races left to close a 50-point gap to championship leader Lewis Hamilton, and a 53-point deficit to Mercedes in the constructors' standings.
But the Italian giants looked a class below The Silver Arrows on the iconic Suzuka circuit, as Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas comfortably topped the timesheets in both Free Practice 1 and 2.
Hamilton was the fastest in both sessions - his quickest time of the day a 1.28.217 in the afternoon session.
The four-time world champion was in such control that he even took to team radio to say how much fun he was having, and how much he liked the Japan track.
"This track is awesome ... I'm having the best day," Hamilton said.
No driver has lost the championship from a lead greater than 50 points, according to Sky F1's Johnny Herbert.
in FP2, Bottas was 0.461 seconds behind Hamilton, while Sebastian Vettel - the quickest of the Ferrari drivers - was 0.833 seconds slower in third.
His Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen was 1.282 seconds off the pace in fifth, edged out by Red Bull's Max Verstappen.
Ferrari are believed to have been running engines in "conservative mode" on Friday, but the huge gap will still be worrying as it looks to revitalise a title charge that has faded since the summer break.
"Mercedes are just dominant again - Ferrari really need to get their stuff together," Sky F1's Paul di Resta said.
"They may come and surprise us tomorrow but you've got to look at what Hamilton's doing. The gap to Bottas is huge and he's on top form."
Elsewhere, Verstappen reversed the tables on Daniel Ricciardo, who was Red Bull's fastest in FP1 but could manage only the sixth-quickest time in FP2.
Esteban Ocon and Romain Grosjean shone again to lead the midfield, though the Force India driver was half a second clear of his French compatriot in seventh.
Sauber appears to be in the running for Q3 again with Marcus Ericsson up in ninth, while there were problems at Toro Rosso, who is debuting Honda's much-vaunted "spec three" engine this weekend.
Though Brendon Hartley completed the top-10 for the Red Bull junior team, Pierre Gasly was stuck in the garage for much of the session after suffering a fuel issue.
He eventually finished 13th, but there will be reliability concerns from his team who is expecting a major boost at Honda's home race.
McLaren and Williams, former mainstays at the front of the grid, locked out the bottom four positions, with Stoffel Vandoorne more than a second adrift of his team-mate Fernando Alonso.
The Belgian, set to leave F1 at the end of the season, propped up the time sheets.
With Sky Sports