Rosberg takes early Momentum with Top-Spots in Friday Practice

Nico Rosberg has set the benchmark in pace early on around the Suzuka circuit. He managed to a two-tenth gap to Hamilton in FP1 and a fractional 0.072s gap to his teammate in FP2.

Topping these sessions doesn’t count for much other than a psychological edge, especially with the gap between the Mercedes drivers so close. This season, it has mainly been Rosberg under the microscope on this front. But Hamilton is under the most pressure this time out. Rosberg said,

“On the soft tyre we showed strong one-lap pace, the balance felt good and the track was really exciting to drive. It looks like we’re ahead of the Ferraris but it remains to be seen as to where we are compared to the Red Bulls.”

– Nico Rosberg

Kimi Raikkonen was closest to Mercedes in his Ferrari and was over 0.5s quicker than his teammate Sebastian Vettel. The Finn complained about understeer quite regularly though, a sign that more set-up changes will be required for FP3.

Verstappen managed 4th for Red Bull and Vettel was 5th. Ricciardo’s hot lap was interrupted by a Virtual Safety car after Esteban Gutierrez’ Haas pulled to the side of the track with a turbo issue. The Aussie only managed 12th. Ricciardo said,

“Our long run pace towards the end of FP2 on the hard tyre looked pretty solid as well. If we can hook the car up for quali, we can be close to Mercedes and probably be ahead of the Ferraris, we can definitely squeeze a bit more out of the car tomorrow. There have been improvements from our side and the Ferraris so we expect the rest of the season to be tighter.”

– Daniel Ricciardo

Force India had promising sessions with Perez and Hulkenberg, both drivers yet again look like they’ll be contenders for Q3 and points finishes. Sergio Perez said,

“It’s looking like a promising weekend based on our performance today. Of course, the track conditions were very good and you never know what the rest of the weekend will bring, but today everything was working well. We looked quite competitive in most conditions – on high and low fuel – and on all the tyre compounds.”

– Sergio Perez

Alonso spun by himself in FP1 and damaged the rear of his McLaren but had a much more impressive FP2 with a newly fitted exhaust and managed 8th. His teammate Jenson Button finished FP2 down in 16th and is concerned with the team’s long-run pace, putting it down to bad tyre degradation.

“Our long-run pace is more of an issue – and that’s something we need to solve as it’s usually a forte of mine, and it wasn’t today. The degradation is significant, we’re some way off, and we’re looking into the reasons why. I think there’s something not quite right, as opposed to there being a set-up issue; but hopefully we can fix it by tomorrow.”

– Jenson Button

Bottas secured 9th, which is very promising for Williams given that they usually take the Friday sessions with a lower engine setting for the sake of preservation. The Finn will want to build on the 5th place finish from Malaysia for this weekend.

Carlos Sainz rounded out the top ten for Toro Rosso but remains uncertain as to whether the team will be able to challenge for points on Sunday. He said,

“we look good on Friday, but we know it won’t be easy to do the same all weekend long – finishing today in the top ten is very nice and we’ll do our best to maximize the potential of the car during the rest of the weekend.”

– Carlos Sainz

Haas have had a real headache. Grosjean’s brakes failed again and he went off in FP1. The Frenchman was fairly agitated over the radio. After the sessions, he said,

“Clearly, we had some issues with the brakes today, which didn’t make our life easy, but eventually we worked our way around it. We still have a lot of work to do tonight trying to balance the car. It’s one of those tracks where the timing is very tight. Two-tenths of a second can make a big difference. Let’s hope we find those.”

– Romain Grosjean