Formula One: Hamilton avoids smash to top Japanese practice

Japanese GP: Lewis Hamilton dominates practice but Mercedes insist Ferrari are holding back

Hamilton loving life after sweeping Friday practice in Suzuka

Hamilton toppled team-mate Valtteri Bottas to set a session-best 1m28.691s, putting Mercedes seven-tenths clear of Red Bull and a full second clear of Ferrari.

Meanwhile, Red Bull's Max Verstappen will be looking to follow up on his impressive showing in Russian Federation.

Hamilton now holds a 50-point lead over Vettel in the championship, and no driver has ever overhauled as big a deficit since the current scoring system began eight years ago.

Hamilton has won five of the last six grands prix this season, and three of the last four to be staged in Japan, and the world champion was again in impressive form on Friday.

Vettel and Ferrari have been left to rue missed opportunities on several occasions this season, when their package has appeared stronger than that of their rival Mercedes, only for the German team and lead driver Lewis Hamilton to pull out winning performances at the Scuderia's expense.

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As for what it means for the standings, there is now a three-way tie for first with teams having records of 6-2-0. We were close, more than ever to winning here but it is better than last season, we didn't lose.

Second-placed Sebastian Vettel has not managed a top two finish in his last three outings, costing him serious ground in the title race. Although overcast on Friday, the conditions for practice remained cool and dry - which might not be the case over the rest of the weekend. "I wasn't totally satisfied with the feeling in the vehicle today". "I don't think we tried something different to other Fridays".

Hamilton added: "I'm just loving driving more than ever; when you get in the vehicle, it's just the best, it's so fast and I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to do what I do. So I think we can focus on our work and now we try to obviously squeeze out everything that's left in the vehicle for tomorrow".

"It has been a clean Friday". I was much better than I had ever been through those particular corners. "I am just grateful for the races I have had and how a lot of then have panned out". "My team and I, we're working so well together in fine-tuning this vehicle". "But we'll see how it is in qualifying tomorrow". We know what the auto can do.

Hamilton, who whizzed into the pits on his scooter 10 minutes after the start of the morning's free practice, survived a hairy moment early on, reacting superbly to avoid smashing into Pierre Gasly's dawdling Toro Rosso on entry to the chicane.

"I think you can always do something [unusual with strategy], the question is whether it works", he said. "We couldn't do that today but it doesn't matter what they do, we look at ourselves, and we will try to get the best out of our package".

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