Mercedes Optimistic After Strong Practice at Japanese Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton expressed satisfaction as Mercedes delivered an impressive performance during Friday’s practice sessions at the Japanese Grand Prix, with the team recording their “best session of the year” according to the seven-time champion.

Despite initial concerns about Mercedes’ performance at the demanding Suzuka circuit, both Hamilton and his teammate George Russell showcased promising pace, finishing fourth and fifth respectively in the first practice session, trailing Max Verstappen of Red Bull by less than half a second.

Hamilton, who described the car’s handling as the best it has felt all year, credited the team’s hard work in addressing the car’s limitations in high-speed corners. Mercedes has been striving to understand the discrepancy between on-track performance and simulation data, particularly regarding downforce production.

The British driver emphasized the significance of the positive session at Suzuka, a track renowned for its challenging layout. Hamilton’s sentiments were echoed by Russell, who highlighted the unexpected nature of the car’s performance as a “pleasant surprise.”

Meanwhile, Red Bull’s Verstappen led the first session, closely followed by teammate Sergio Perez and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. Despite Verstappen’s strong showing, he anticipated a tighter competition compared to last year’s Grand Prix, expecting the field to be more closely matched.

However, Williams faced further setbacks as American driver Logan Sargeant crashed heavily during the first practice session at Suzuka’s high-speed Dunlop corner. Sargeant’s crash compounded Williams’ ongoing challenges in the 2024 season, following a difficult start marked by reliability issues and accidents.

Despite the setback, Sargeant’s chassis remained intact, sparing Williams from additional repair work. Team principal James Vowles attributed the crash to a misjudgment rather than pushing the car to its limits.

As the weekend unfolds, teams are bracing for uncertain weather conditions, with intermittent rain affecting the second practice session. McLaren’s Oscar Piastri topped the timesheets in the wet conditions, with Mercedes’ Hamilton closely trailing behind.

With the prospect of mixed weather forecasted for qualifying and the race, teams are strategizing their tyre usage carefully, mindful of the limited sets available for the entire weekend.

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