George Russell and Lewis Hamilton made it a Mercedes one-two ahead of title-chasing Max Verstappen in a wet-dry second practice on Friday for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Runaway Red Bull leader Verstappen can clinch his second straight world title on Sunday if he wins the race with the fastest lap, no matter what his rivals do.
But he was beaten to the quickest time in the second practice session by the Mercedes pair, with Russell clocking a fastest lap of 1min 41.935sec.
Seven-time world champion Hamilton followed his fellow Briton 0.235sec behind, with Verstappen coming in third, a sizeable 0.851sec behind Russell.
A rainy start to the session at Suzuka meant the drivers began on wet tyres but switched to intermediates once the conditions improved.
That did not satisfy Verstappen though, with the flying Dutchman telling his team “all tyres are s—, no grip”, over the radio.
Dry conditions are expected for Saturday’s qualifying but some rain is forecast for Sunday.
“It’s probably not going to be that representative for this weekend but definitely good learning for the future,” Russell said of the conditions.
“Nevertheless, it’s always nice to end the day top of the timesheets.”
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Verstappen’s nearest rival in the championship standings, finished 2.774sec behind Russell in 11th.
The Monaco driver bounced off the track and found himself on the gravel at one point, complaining that the jolt had damaged his front tyre.
His team later found a problem with his brakes and called him in before sending him back out 10 minutes later.
“The feeling is totally bad for some reason, I will try to make it better,” Leclerc said over the radio.
Hamilton savours history
Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez was fourth, followed by Haas driver Kevin Magnussen and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in sixth.
Mick Schumacher of Haas did not take part in the second practice after he crashed in the first session.
Schumacher spun into the barriers and onto the grass after the chequered flag, destroying his front wing and requiring a new chassis.
Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso went quickest in the wet first practice, and seventh in his Alpine in the second.
The Japanese Grand Prix returns on Sunday after a three-year absence because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Fans turned up to watch practice in colourful costumes despite the grim conditions, and Hamilton said he enjoyed being back after three years away.
“It’s always special when you do your first lap out, you think of all the legends as you come up to the last chicane,” he said, recalling Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost’s famous collision on the course in 1989.
“You just think you are driving through a space, a point on the circuit which had so much history. At that moment you think of the time before and how privileged you are to be in the position.”
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