Ferrari surprised by gap to Mercedes in Suzuka

Charles Leclerc

Ferrari’s drivers have expressed surprise at the gap between their cars and the leading Mercedes pair after practice for the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix.

Ferrari has shown a recent upturn in pace, with Charles Leclerc snaring pole position at the last four grands prix and  together with team-mate Sebastian Vettel winning three of the last four races.

Mercedes dominated opening running at Suzuka, finishing first and second in both Friday practice sessions.

Valtteri Bottas finished FP1 0.989s ahead of Leclerc’s best effort. The Monegasque driver narrowed the gap to 0.356s in FP2, but long run pace indicated a Mercedes advantage at the Japanese circuit.

After Saturday’s running was cancelled, qualifying will now be held on Sunday morning, leaving little opportunity for Ferrari to overturn Mercedes’ advantage.

“Our competitors were very strong today and we are not yet where we would like to be,” said Leclerc.

“I am not entirely sure where we are lacking in terms of our pace, but I know that some of the improvements will come from me working on my driving.

“We made the most of our day.

“Knowing that qualifying has been postponed to Sunday due to the weather conditions, everyone approached free practice a bit differently to usual, especially for the second session. 

 “Sunday will be busy, but in the end you always have the same routine before you get into the car, the same mindset.

“So we will go ahead as usual, working hard on improving in all areas and doing the best job possible to bring home a strong result.”

Team-mate Vettel mirrored Leclerc’s concern over the gap to Mercedes.

“We are in reasonable shape, but maybe we are lacking a bit of pace overall,” said Vettel.

“Our rivals looked very comfortable right from the start of practice and they confirmed that pace in FP2.

“Today, was not too bad, at least it was better than it looked.

“I think we have a bit of room for improvement as it wasn’t an ideal session, in terms of how we made use of our tyres.

“On Sunday there will be a big question mark over the state of the track as tomorrow’s (Saturday’s) wind and rain will have an effect.”

Despite their advantage, Bottas says Mercedes still has room for improvement.

“I’m very happy with the car in general, it felt good from the beginning,” he said.

“I think we can still make some small tweaks to improve the balance of the car, but overall it felt good both on the short and the long runs. 

“We expect Sunday to be close in both qualifying and the race, so we need to keep pushing.”

The revised schedule sees qualifying take place at noon AEDT on Sunday.

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