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Mercedes F1 car feels best it has all season in Japan practice, says Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton says his Mercedes car feels the best it has all season, following an encouraging opening day of practice for Formula 1’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

After a challenging start to the campaign where Mercedes has struggled with its W15, duo George Russell and Lewis Hamilton ended up fourth and fifth quickest respectively in Suzuka’s morning free practice session, which offered the only representative running with FP2 taking place in damp conditions.

Off the back of a host of experiments that the team was running as part of its bid to get to the bottom of its car’s high-speed weakness and tyre temperature management, Hamilton said the early evidence pointed to good progress having been made.

“It was a great session, it was a really good session for us,” beamed Hamilton as he reflected on the day. “It was the best session that we've had this year, and it's the best the car has felt this year so far. So, so far really positive.

“I was really excited because this is a circuit that every driver loves to drive. In the last couple of years, we've had a really difficult car and a difficult balance to drive here. But given the difficult last few races we've had; great work has been done this past week.

“We just seem to have hit the ground a bit more in a sweeter spot. I haven't really made any changes since.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Whereas Hamilton has seen some of this year’s earlier race weekends derailed by bold set-up shifts to cure problems, he reckoned he was best set with how things were locked in right now.

“I think we have got a better platform or baseline to start from,” he said. “So as long as we don't make too many changes and mess it up, I think probably just stay where we are.”

Hamilton’s bullishness about the feel of the Mercedes was backed by Russell, who said that things had gone better than expected at a venue where the team could have expected to struggle.

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“In FP1 we definitely performed better than we expected, so that was a pleasant surprise,” he said.

“The car was feeling really nice to drive, and Lewis and I were really happy with the balance. It has been performing better when it's been slightly colder, but we've been doing a lot of test items to try and make that car a little bit more consistent when conditions are variable. So, time will tell.

“FP2 was definitely a miss for everybody as we had some interesting things we wanted to try. But that's the nature of Formula 1 sometimes.”

Russell suggested that confidence in being able to immediately push to the limit would be critical with high tyre degradation meaning that there would be no second attempts at getting qualifying laps in.

“It's going to be very challenging because it's a clear one-lap tyre in qualifying,” he explained. “You cannot do multiple laps on the tyre.

“Most drivers may only have three or four sets for qualifying. So, you've got to be nailing those laps on every opportunity if you want any hope of getting into Q3 with two sets of new tyres. I think you're going to see quite high degradation and that's where the focus is going to be.”

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