F1 Raceweek: Vettel needs to close Hamilton gap in Japan

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Following his sterling attempt at damage limitation in Malaysia last time out, Sebastian Vettel arrives in Japan needing to make up ground on championship leader Lewis Hamilton.

The Ferrari driver battled from the back of the grid at Sepang to finish fourth, two places behind Mercedes' Hamilton, and now sits 34 points adrift of the Briton at the top of the drivers' standings.

A bizarre collision with Lance Stroll after the chequered flag appears not to have had an impact on Vettel's preparations for the Japanese Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen and Red Bull will be keen to build on their victory in Malaysia and will be encouraged by their pace against the Silver Arrows last weekend.

Hamilton's team-mate Valtteri Bottas has discussed his frustration at recent performances this week, so reports of a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change will do little to improve his mood.

 

WHAT WE LEARNED FROM PRACTICE

Vettel topped the FP1 timesheets before Hamilton demonstrated his mastery of wet conditions to post the fastest as the second session was almost totally washed out.

There was little to choose between Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull as all drivers looked to beat the incoming downpour, with Vettel eventually pipping Hamilton by two tenths of a second.

Vettel's quick lap came shortly after Carlos Sainz put his Toro Rosso into the tyre wall at the Turn 11 hairpin, compounding his misery on a weekend that also sees him carry a 20-place grid penalty into the race.

The Spaniard emerged unhurt but his car sustained extensive damage.

Rain started to fall after Vettel's flying lap, dampening the hopes of anyone hoping to go quicker, and the worsening conditions meant only five drivers managed to register a time in FP2.

Lance Stroll's near miss after aquaplaning at Turn 1 highlighted the challenging circumstances but Hamilton adapted well to come out on top.

Only two of the last 10 races in Japan have been affected by rain, with Hamilton winning both in 2007 and 2010.

 

STANDINGS

Drivers
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) - 281
2. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) - 247 (-34)
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) - 222 (-59)
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) - 177 (-104)
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) - 138 (-143)

Constructors
1. Mercedes - 503
2. Ferrari - 385 (-118)
3. Red Bull - 270 (-233)
4. Force India - 133 (-370)
5. Williams - 65 (-438)

 

PREVIOUS WINNERS

2016: Nico Rosberg
2015: Lewis Hamilton
2014: Lewis Hamilton

 

WEATHER FORECAST

The rain is expected to last into Saturday, meaning FP3 and qualifying could be a challenge for the drivers, while Sunday promises to be brighter.