SUZUKA, Japan — In a battle of wills, Nico Rosberg fired the opening shots against Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in Friday’s free practice sessions for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Rosberg toured the 5.807-kilometer (3.608-mile) circuit in 1:32.250 during the second round of practice, narrowly edging out Hamilton’s best lap of 1:32.322.
The German national and current points leader will seek his first Suzuka victory on Sunday and looks to break Hamilton’s two-year win streak at Suzuka.
“Even though we’ve been fast, it’s been a case of finding my way today,” Rosberg explained. “It began with quite a lot of understeer, and we had to work through the setup in order to find a better balance on the car. In the afternoon, the medium tire didn’t seem as strong as the hard as we saw in Malaysia … but on the soft tire we showed strong one-lap pace, the balance felt good and the track was really exciting to drive.”
“It looks like we’re ahead of the Ferraris but it remains to be seen as to where we are compared to the Red Bulls. I’m happy though. It’s a good day.”
Hamilton’s second-quick lap gives the Englishman confidence going into the remainder of the weekend, as he looks to bounce back from a rough outing in Malaysia that saw his engine expire and his points deficit grow to 23 behind Rosberg.
“It’s been a really good day with no problems on the car, which is great,” the three-time and defending World Champion said. “We managed to get plenty of laps in, but there’s still some work to be done overnight in order to find more pace. Hopefully we’ll be going into Sunday in good shape. It’s great to be here in Japan and I’m excited to get out on track again for qualifying tomorrow.”
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel was third-fastest overall (1:33.525) for Ferrari, posting his best lap in the opening practice round, while the sister Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen went fourth overall (1:32.573) in the second round.
Max Verstappen’s Red Bull completed the overall top five on speed, just ahead of his teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
The Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez were seventh and eighth, with Fernando Alonso’s McLaren ninth and Valtteri Bottas’ Williams tenth.
Qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix airs Saturday at 2 a.m. ET, live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.
Friday Practice Results