Charles Leclerc says Ferrari’s lack of pace throughout Friday practice for Formula 1’s Japanese Grand Prix comes as a “bit of a surprise”.

Both Ferrari drivers trailed the dominant Mercedes squad by a second in FP1, before ending the day four-tenths adrift as Leclerc could only manage the fourth-fastest time, behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Ferrari waited until the closing moments of FP2 to attempt a second qualifying simulation run, with Leclerc jumping up the order from sixth to fourth, nudging teammate Sebastian Vettel down to fifth in the process.

Asked if the team managed to complete its programme, Leclerc replied: Not absolutely everything, but I think we made the most out of our day, which was the most important.

“But it seems we are lacking pace this weekend, which is a bit of a surprise because at the end we were very strong in the last four races.

“We expected to be quite good here, but it's less this case. We will be working to prepare at its best for qualifying on Sunday.

“The balance is not that bad, we are just lacking speed. There's a little bit in driving too. I expect it to be hard to catch Mercedes in front.”

Despite appearing off the pace of its chief rival, Vettel insisted Ferrari’s day had not gone as badly as it might look.

"It was not as bad as maybe you think,” Vettel said. “I think we were quite OK, but just lacking overall pace.

“I think Mercedes is very comfortable straight from this morning, so not a surprise they were able to show that again in FP2.

“For us, I think we have a bit of room to improve. It wasn't an ideal session, maybe using our tyres not the way we could have.

“But overall, I think we'll see what we find tomorrow. We'll stay indoors and see what happens on Sunday.”