Sebastian Vettel did little to improve the morale of his rivals at Suzuka, by announcing that he expected to find more time in his Red Bull ahead of qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Having allowed Mercedes to take a 1-2 in the opening 90 minutes of practice, the three-time world champion – who can claim a fourth consecutive crown with the right combination of results this weekend – moved back into top spot during the afternoon session, edging Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber by near on two-tenths of a second, with the best of the Mercedes, that of Nico Rosberg, a further tenth adrift in third spot.
Vettel appeared to have been delayed on his fastest run of the day, and could conceivably have gone faster than his eventual 1min 33.852secs benchmark time, but also said that he had not been entirely with the set-up of his RB9.
“The car balance is decent, but I think we can still improve,” he claimed, “The car works fine at the moment, but we need to make sure we set it up the right way. Looking after the tyres will be important here, especially during the race.”
Despite Fernando Alonso being his closest rival in the championship – the Spaniard needs a top eight finish to prolong the fight to India at the end of the month – it is clear who Vettel fears most this Saturday.
“It's good to see we are up there today, but it's not always so important,” he said, aware of the vagaries of Friday practice, “We need to step up our game for tomorrow, as Mercedes will be strong in qualifying.”