Lewis Hamilton surprised by `dream´ run of races

Red Bull fans

Red Bull fans

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 made a sublime start to his campaign in Japan, the Briton recording a time of one minute, 28.217seconds - four-tenths of a second clear of Bottas on another impressive day for Mercedes.

Validating his theory, Wolff continued: "In the morning they were quicker through nearly every corner but they had a softer tyre".

Hamilton finished the best part of half-a-second faster than anybody else in practice on Friday. Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel was third fastest.

It was another dramatic drive from Verstappen, who over four seasons has firmly established himself as F1's most aggressive and exciting racer, but has never had a vehicle capable of a true title challenge.

Although it is only Friday practice, and form does not always translate into qualifying and race, the performance on the first day of the Japanese Grand Prix was disheartening for Ferrari.

"Maybe the next couple of tracks are better suited for us, we will know when we get there", said Vettel.

"We need to focus on that and try to get everything out to put us in the best possible position", said Vettel, who realistically will need a fifth Japan victory on Sunday to keep his fading championship hopes alive.

Valtteri Bottas said he will still be allowed to win this season but is prepared to obey team orders again to help Lewis Hamilton's quest to retain his Formula One title. Afterwards he would say "let's race to the car".

"Every time we come to Suzuka, the cars just get faster and faster".

Jean Todt, the Ferrari team boss at the time and now the FIA president, recalls that moment as his best in the sport.

"We know what the vehicle can do", he added, "and we need to focus on that and try to get everything out to put us in the best possible position".

"If we can grasp pole tomorrow that is great. I'm just so grateful to have the opportunity to do what I do". "They did it in the past so I don't know why they have changed".

"Also, in Russian Federation, it seemed that we were a lot ahead of everyone else on Friday, but in qualifying it gets more intense".

"The first section is the best roller coaster ride that I've felt in a Formula 1 auto".

"Today I think, both of us, were sliding a bit too much therefore damaging the tyres a bit more than others but I think overall it's been OK", he insisted.

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