Lewis Hamilton admits he did not expect Mercedes to hold such a comfortable margin over Formula 1 rivals Ferrari at the Japanese Grand Prix.

The championship leader topped the timesheets during Friday practice at Suzuka as he led a dominant Mercedes 1-2 in both sessions, while chief title rival Sebastian Vettel ended the day 0.833s adrift in his Ferrari.

Hamilton heads into this weekend’s race with a 50-point margin over the German after taking three victories on the bounce and further extending his points advantage in Russia following Mercedes’ controversial use of team orders.

When asked if he expected Mercedes to have a clear edge in Japan, Hamilton replied: “Definitely not. I didn’t know where we were going to stand alongside the Red Bulls and Ferraris.

“The Red Bulls were really quick here last year and naturally so, the Ferraris. So I wasn’t expecting that.

“I just came here with the mindset of I know where I’ve got to get the car, I know there’s always areas to improve,” he added.

“There’s two or three corners where I thought ‘I know I need to kill it this weekend’ and I got straight onto it. Straight away I was much, much better than I’ve ever been through those particular corners.

“So now I’ve just got to stay on it, keep going, keep working. We are working so hard to fine-tuning this car, which we are becoming accustomed to now and as I said I’m loving driving more than ever.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was quick to play down his team’s apparent pace advantage over Ferrari and suggested the Scuderia had been running in conservative engine modes which ultimately helped created a gap that “flattered” the reigning world champions.

Teammate Valtteri Bottas, who was over four tenths slower than Hamilton in both sessions, insisted Mercedes cannot get complacent and reckons qualifying on Saturday will prove to be “more intense”.

"It’s always so difficult to say it, from Friday,” he added. “Also, in Russia, it seemed that we were a lot ahead of everyone else on Friday, but in qualifying it gets more intense.

“Also with the changing weather, we’re not going into tonight thinking we’re comfortably in the lead or anything. We’re going to work as hard as usual to find all the improvements we can."

 

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