Vettel lays down early marker for Japan Formula One GP


Now, although, Lewis Hamilton can not be crowned - the last two races have seen him become firm favourite to claim his fourth world title, and he holds a 34-point lead with five Global Positioning System of the season left. "In the last years, we have performed very strongly there".

The German suffered successive setbacks at the last two races in Singapore and Malaysia, which Hamilton capitalised on with a win and second-place finish to extend his advantage. It is a circuit which rewards Grand Prix cars and drivers performing at their very best - and we expect a very close fight between ourselves, Ferrari and Red Bull.

"But recent weeks have reminded us that historic form counts for little with these 2017 cars and tyres". That said, the Ferrari, if it avoids more bad luck, looks enormous at the moment so I am going for a Vettel win with Hamilton competing with Raikkonen and the Red Bulls for the other podium positions.

After two races on the back foot, Lewis Hamilton declared Mercedes "back to normal" on Friday in Japan.

At the front, Vettel's pace was a worrying sign for Hamilton and Mercedes, who in theory were expected to be the quickest combination in Japan.

Hamilton's former McLaren team-mate Jenson Button is at Suzuka and he believes the current title fight is bringing fans back to F1.

That time held up for second after Vettel's late improvement.

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There were already positives for him going into the weekend, with Ferrari saying his gearbox was undamaged in a freaky collision with Williams rookie Lance Stroll on the cool down lap after the Malaysian race.

Heavy rain between FP1 and the planned start of running in the afternoon led to FP2 being postponed indefinitely, with a break in the weather allowing the session to get underway after 45 minutes of waiting. "This year it's different".

Six drivers, meanwhile, opted to sit out the session entirely - Red Bull duo Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, Haas pair Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas and Toro Rosso's Pierre Gasly. They could act as kingmakers in the title battle between Hamilton and Vettel.

"In practice one, the vehicle did feel better than it did in Malaysia, but we still need to work on things to make the auto quicker".

That represented unfamiliar territory for the reigning champions, even if they came away with a tidy points haul as Ferrari self-destructed. But we're certainly close.

"I think we have a good understanding but it's only been a couple of days", he added.