Championship leader Hamilton, winner of the last two races, set
the pace in a crash-interrupted second session after Mercedes team
mate Nico Rosberg had lapped quickest in the morning.
The Briton's time of one minute 35.078 seconds in the afternoon at
Suzuka was more than two-tenths of a second faster than Rosberg’s
Mercedes, who could claim the constructors’ championship this
weekend if results go their way, were again dominant with their
drivers one-two in both sessions.
"It's amazing what this team has done, to be able to come to one of
the most demanding circuits for downforce and be that competitive is
fantastic,” said Hamilton, who leads Rosberg by three points in the
standings with five races to go.
"The car didn't feel spectacular this morning, but on the option
(tire) it felt really good."
Finland's Valtteri Bottas kept his Williams at the sharp end of the
field, setting the third fastest time in the second session after
having gone fourth quickest in the day's opening 90 minutes.
McLaren’s Jenson Button, who regards the Japanese Grand Prix as a
second home race, followed the Williams by setting the fourth
fastest time in his McLaren ahead of reigning world champion
Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull.
Kimi Raikkonen led Ferrari’s charge in the second session ahead of
team-mate Alonso, whose future remained a major talking point after
he refused to rule out leaving the sport’s glamor team as early as
Alonso appeared to have confirmed the progress the Maranello-based
team had made in Singapore, setting the third-fastest time in the
morning only to slip back to seventh at the end of the day.
After an uneventful opening session, the challenging high speed
figure-of-eight circuit caught several drivers out in the afternoon,
with red flags halting the session twice.
The threat of rain, with typhoon Phanfone expected to pass south of
Suzuka on race day, also hung over practice with a light drizzle
falling after a sunny start to the day.
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Home hero Kamui Kobayashi crashed less than 10 minutes into the
session, his Caterham snapping out from under him to add to the
struggling outfit’s woes over what has already been a turbulent
weekend with bailiffs raiding their British factory.
Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo also ended his session in the barriers,
with the Australian spearing off the road just as he was rounding
the corner leading onto the home straight.
"I made a mistake," said the ever-smiling Australian. "The tires
probably cooled too much and out of the last chicane I got on the
power and had a few moments and just couldn't catch it."
Ricciardo, the only man other than the Mercedes duo to have won a
race so far this year, had been fastest at the time of his accident
and, despite having completed only three laps, ended the day 10th
"They (Mercedes) were really quick today," Ricciardo said. "Maybe
the race will change. Right now in the dry, all going well, we can
still be third on the grid."
Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne was 11th. Reliability issues sidelined
him after just two laps early in the session but the Frenchman
eventually completed 17 laps before stopping again.
The Frenchman had sat out the morning session to hand his car to
Verstappen, son of former F1 driver Jos, who acquitted himself well
with the 12th quickest time.
The Dutch youngster was only four tenths of a second shy of
20-year-old Russian Daniil Kvyat in the other Toro Rosso. He
completed 22 laps in total before engine trouble brought a smoky end
to his outing with seven minutes remaining.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury/Alan Baldwin)
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