Mercedes finished Suzuka's rainy first day of practice in the top positions. Setup corrections got the Silver Arrows moving in the afternoon. On top of that, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton used more intermediates and drove with a larger rear wing
This result is a rarity this season. Two Mercedes at the top. Max Verstappen eight tenths behind. George Russell and Lewis Hamilton dictated what was happening on a rainy Suzuka race track in the afternoon. It didn't even look like that in the first training session. Mercedes saved laps and struggled with the tire temperatures.
The engineers changed the setup for the second training session. The measures paid off. And this time, Russell and Hamilton were on the track at the right time, not the wrong. Hamilton was happy: "We put the tires in the window." Chief engineer Andrew Shovlin curbed too much euphoria. "The lap times don't reflect the pace, but compared to Red Bull and Ferrari we seem to be in a reasonable position."
Stress in the third training session
It will probably stay dry on Saturday anyway. Teams then have just an hour to practice with less fuel for qualifying, do long runs with fuller tanks in preparation for the race, and work out a setup for dry conditions. There is an extra set of the medium set for the third training session. The engineers expect high activity. Everyone needs to collect data. The forecast for the race also speaks for dry weather.
Also because of this, and because it is supposed to be dry on Saturday, Mercedes was able to drive three sets of the four intermediates with both drivers. The opponents saved more of the green marked Pirellis. It was a key to the best time for Mercedes.
Two sets of the intermediates are already gone. The Mercedes drivers get one back. If the worst comes to the worst, the sentence you started could be used in a wet race. You may remember: In Singapore, Hamilton complained that he would have preferred to start on a used rather than a new intermediate.
More wings, less top speed
Mercedes also did some experiments with the tires. This offered itself in the 90-minute extended training session. In contrast to the competition, the constructors' world champion also relied on more abrasion. That helps in the rain. Mercedes drove its big rear wing. Red Bull and Ferrari a smaller one. Mercedes wants to continue on this path on Saturday.
The view is directed towards the race. Mercedes needs the big wing to produce enough downforce in the many medium-speed and high-speed corners. This also protects the tires better. However, the air resistance increases, which costs top speed and thus time on the straights.
Ferrari is strong in this type of corner but has to sacrifice downforce to be faster on the straights. Red Bull can afford a smaller wing. Because you generate more contact pressure via the underbody and the bodywork. And thus flies on the straights.