Nico Rosberg held the edge over Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in Friday’s two practice sessions for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Rosberg recovered from a first-lap collision with Sebastian Vettel to place third in Malaysia last time out, as a costly engine blow up left Hamilton trailing his team-mate by 23 points in the Formula One drivers’ standings.
And the defending champion, who is searching for a third straight win at Suzuka, will hardly have had his mood improved as Rosberg topped the timesheets in FP1 and FP2 in Japan.
Hamilton complained of a lack of power early in FP1 and by the end of the session he was 0.215 seconds adrift of Rosberg.
Mercedes explained in the build-up to Japan that their engines are running in a revised spec, which is likely to account for Hamilton’s dip in power.
Ferrari’s Vettel, who defended his driving style after the collision with Rosberg in Malaysia, was 1.094 seconds adrift of Rosberg in third, with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen fourth in the opening session.
Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso recovered from going off track at Spoon Curve to place ninth and complete the full session.
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Rosberg saved his best for FP2, clocking a time of one minute and 32.250 seconds on his first qualifying simulation lap.
The German pipped Hamilton by a mere 0.072secs in the second session and there appears little to split the dominant Mercedes drivers.
Raikkonen improved to third in the second run and impressively came within 0.323 seconds of Rosberg, while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was 0.811 seconds behind the best time as he pipped Vettel to fourth.
The session was briefly run under virtual safety car conditions after Esteban Gutierrez’s Haas failed, which prevented Daniel Ricciardo from setting a lap at full pace having earlier impressed with his long runs, along with team-mate Verstappen.
Ex-Red Bull driver Daniil Kvyat, meanwhile, spectacularly spun after touching the grass coming out of the final corner in FP2.
Force India had both Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez inside the top eight for each of the sessions as the teams prepare for what could be a wet qualifying session on Saturday.