Red Bull were agonisingly close to Mercedes on long runs during the second free practice session of Japanese GP on Friday..
On a track that is expected to suit the characteristics of the RB12, Red Bull showed impressive pace in their race simulations,.
Both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen averaged lap times that were within a tenth of Mercedes’ pace, setting up a two-way showdown for Sunday’s race.
On the soft tyres, Hamilton effectively recorded the best average lap time of all, 1:37.974. Intriguingly, Ricciardo’s and Verstappen’s averages were 1:38.058 and 1:38.095 respectively.
The story was similar in their hard tyre simulations with Verstappen’s average only 0.050 slower than that of Hamilton.
Elsewhere, Sebastian Vettel’s stint on hard tyre looked rather underwhelming, despite being significantly longer than any of his rivals.
Nico Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen were the only two frontrunners to do a race simulation on medium compound, with the Mercedes driver lapping two tenths quicker than the latter.
Interestingly, Rosberg recorded heavy tyre degradation towards the end of his soft tyre stint, as attested by his drop in performance.
Apart from the top-three teams, Force India and McLaren remain one to watch out for. Buoyed by Fernando Alonso’s seventh place result, McLaren will be hoping to continue their upward trend at Honda’s home race.
Raikkonen - 1:37.965 (short stint)
Hamilton - 1:37.974
Ricciardo - 1:38.069
Verstappen - 1:38.095
Rosberg - 1:38.384
Raikkonen - 1:38.506
Hamilton - 1:38.126
Verstappen - 1:38.176
Ricciardo - 1:38.182
Vettel - 1:39.200 (long)
by Rachit Thukral