Mercedes dominate in Japan F1 GP practice, Vettel fifth fastest

Red Bull fans

Lewis Hamilton dominated practice for the Japanese Grand Prix on Friday, an early indication that the Formula One championship leader will be tough to beat in Sunday's race.

The Mercedes driver laid down a time of 1.28.961 in the first free practice session, which was nearly half a second faster than his teammate Valtteri Bottas, who was in second place.

Meanwhile, Red Bull's Max Verstappen will be looking to follow up on his impressive showing in Russian Federation.

Hamilton heads into this weekend with a 50 point lead of title rival Sebastian Vettel, and the four-time World Champion thought there would be more from the German and his team.

With five races to go, his fifth world championship is nearly in the bag.

"There's very little room for run-off", said Hamilton, who has won three times at Suzuka and four overall in Japan.

Second-placed Sebastian Vettel has not managed a top two finish in his last three outings, costing him serious ground in the title race.

Hamilton finished the best part of half-a-second faster than anybody else in practice on Friday.

"I was much better than I had ever been through those particular corners", he declared.

"I think I've said many times that we have a strong vehicle, but I don't think, against the people's opinions, that we had a dominant auto at any point this year", the German said.

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Channel 4 will also show the race live, but if you do not fancy getting up ay the crack of dawn then a full race replay will be broadcast from 12.30pm.

"Time will tell, I don't know", said the 31-year-old Vettel when asked if he thought the deficit to Hamilton could be bridged.

"We know what we were doing, I don't think we tried something different to other Fridays", he added.

"It's been a clean Friday, no interruptions, no issues with the vehicle or anything".

"We have some work to do ahead of tomorrow", said Verstappen.

"No interruptions, no issue with the vehicle or anything, so now we have to try to obviously squeeze out everything that is left in the auto for tomorrow".

"I think you can always do something [unusual with strategy], the question is whether it works", he said.

Hamilton's win in Sochi was overshadowed by the decision to have teammate Valtteri Bottas pull over to let Hamilton pass. Bottas started from pole and was in position for his first win of 2018 when the decision was made by the team.

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.

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