Mercedes on top at Suzuka as F1 prepares for typhoon Hagibis

by Ed Spencer

Mercedes Benz AMG Racing used up as much time as free practice time in Suzuka this morning as typhoon Hagibis makes its way across Japan.

With qualifying postponed to Sunday morning, practice would be crucial in order for the teams to access the Suzuka circuit with the second session of practice being extended to a ninety-minute session.

To the surprise of many it was Valtteri Bottas who was fastest in both practice sessions with the Finnish driver topping the timesheets in both sessions, with Bottas delighted on how Friday practice had gone

“It’s been a very positive day for us,” said Bottas. “It’s always so much fun to drive these cars on this track. I’m very happy with the car in general, it felt good from the beginning.”

Nevertheless Bottas still believes that Sunday will be a close in both qualifying and in the race as he bids to keep his World championship hopes alive.

“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 used some of the tyres from Saturday today and the weather stayed nice, so we got plenty of running in which is great. We expect Sunday to be close in both qualifying and the race, so we need to keep pushing.”

With F1 personal having to stay away from Suzuka on Saturday because of typhoon Hagibis, many of the drivers are finding alternative ways to kill time, with Bottas spending his Saturday looking at Friday’s data in preperation for qualifying.

“We got an unexpected day off tomorrow but I’m sure the team will keep me busy; we’ll be digging into the data and make the most out of it,” Bottas added.

While Bottas stays with his team in the Suzuka area for tomorrow, teammate and championship leader Lewis Hamilton will head back to Tokyo with his tail between his legs after finishing second in the times and just over a tenth behind Bottas and with brake issues at the back of his mind as the World Champion’s brakes briefly caught ablaze after a series of hot laps.

Hamilton, however, was enjoying the twisty Suzuka circuit as he attempts to win his sixth Japanese Grand Prix which will put him tied on six wins with Michael Schumacher.

“It’s pretty amazing driving this track – we got a headwind through the esses in the first sector which has been great,” explained Hamilton. “It’s been a good day overall, we got through our programme but it’s a work in progress – there’s always time to find at this track, there’s always areas that you can improve.”

It wasn’t all about the driver’s championship for Hamilton as he focused on securing Mercedes’s sixth constructor’s championship in a row with the Brackley based outfit over one hundred and sixty-two points of nearest rivals Scuderia Ferrari.

“Valtteri showed some good pace and it seems we are in a good position at this point of the weekend. This is a track I really enjoy so I can’t wait to get back in the car. We’ll be analysing the data tonight and tomorrow to try and put ourselves into a good position for Sunday.”

Mercedes’s chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin said the challenge of combing both qualifying and race will be difficult but said that it will be a good challenge and good fun at the same time.

“It’s been more interesting than a normal Friday as we have had to adjust from the normal programme with the poor weather expected tomorrow,” said Shovlin. “We’d already decided to bring a Saturday tyre set into Friday morning, even before we heard that all Saturday running was cancelled. That allowed us to do a bit more setup work than normal and it gave the drivers a bit more experience at low fuel.”

Sandbags ready as teams prepare for the incoming storms – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

With the announcement that if qualifying couldn’t take place on Sunday morning, the times for the second practice session would form the starting grid, Shovlin and Mercedes made the decision to turn up the power unit and to run lower fuel in order to get the best laptime.

“We then heard that the best times from the second session would be used to form the grid if qualifying cannot take place on Sunday morning. That meant we wanted to get decent times on the board so we turned the power unit up a bit and had to run lower fuel than we would normally run. The session itself was solid, the update kit we have brought here seems to be working well although neither driver felt they have got everything out of the car yet.”

As the pitlane prepares for Hagibis, Mercedes along with the other nine constructors on the grid worked quickly to protect its equipment from flood damage which is expected to hit the area with the track completely shut on Saturday.

“We’re going to be working our normal schedule tonight so that the cars are ready for a Sunday morning qualifying when we leave here around midnight. We’ll be packing down some of the equipment tonight to avoid it getting damaged in the typhoon and making sure the cars and garage kit are safe from damage if we get a flood. We may not be allowed into the circuit tomorrow so that will mean having some meetings at the hotel to prepare for a very busy Sunday.”

With the qualifying planned for Sunday morning, followed by the race in the afternoon, Shovlin and Mercedes are taking on the challenge with gusto, where they hope to give Formula 1’s fans a show.

“It’s always quite difficult to deal with both qualifying and race in a day but the challenge is good fun and we’re looking forward to it. We hope everyone stays safe tomorrow and that the circuit survives the storm so we can put on a good show for the fans on Sunday.”

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