Hamilton loving life after sweeping Friday practice in Suzuka

Japanese GP: Lewis Hamilton dominates practice but Mercedes insist Ferrari are holding back

The four-time world champion was in a class of his own to lead Mercedes one-twos in both sessions as Ferrari and Red Bull failed to match his pace.

The Mercedes driver laid down a time of 1.28.961 in the first free practice session, which was nearly half a second faster than his teammate Valtteri Bottas, who was in second place.

Daniel Ricciardo set the third-fastest time in his Red Bull ahead of Vettel's Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen.

Vettel is 50 points behind Hamilton in the drivers' championship, and needs to finish ahead of Hamilton in Sunday's race to stand any realistic chance of winning the 2018 title, reports Efe.

"We were not expecting to be as fast as we were in the last race", explained the world championship leader.

The German has won four times in Japan before, which should give him confidence, but so has Hamilton, including past year.

Vettel and Ferrari have been left to rue missed opportunities on several occasions this season, when their package has appeared stronger than that of their rival Mercedes, only for the German team and lead driver Lewis Hamilton to pull out winning performances at the Scuderia's expense. That was Lewis Hamilton's assessment during second practice in Japan - and the timesheets backed up the Mercedes star, who blew his rivals away on Friday...

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

"Sorry, but I don't think it's true; I don't think we lost direction". "But I just came here with the mindset, 'Okay I know where I want to get the auto'".

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"I've just been giving thanks all day today just because this is what I've always wanted to do", he said.

"It has been a clean Friday, no issues with the auto".

"It always gets more intense in Qualifying, so we're going to work just as hard as usual to find all the improvements we can".

"I was much better than I had ever been through those particular corners", he declared. "We focus on our work and we try to squeeze everything that is left in the vehicle".

"But overall the vehicle felt pretty good throughout all sectors, I just had some balance issues, struggling a bit with understeer".

"We'll see how it is in qualifying tomorrow".

Alonso finished 18th, while Lando Norris, the British teenager who is being promoted to McLaren's race team next year, was last, four seconds slower than Hamilton.

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

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