FP2: Hamilton fastest again in dominant start to Japan weekend

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SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton revelled in the speed of his Mercedes on Friday as the Formula One championship leader dominated Suzuka's "rollercoaster" circuit in Japanese Grand Prix practice.

Hamilton went on to clock a fastest time of one minute, 28.691 seconds before the Briton produced a sizzling lap of 1:28.217 to top the timesheets in the afternoon, nearly half-a-second quicker than team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton won in Japan a year ago, while Vettel failed to finish, with Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo claiming second and third.

Hamilton now holds a 50-point lead over Vettel in the championship, and no driver has ever overhauled as big a deficit since the current scoring system began eight years ago.

The German driver is 50 points behind his fellow four-time world champion and the Japanese Grand Prix is his last chance to begin closing the gap.

Vettel, whose hopes of pipping Hamilton to a fifth Formula One world title look increasingly forlorn, needed to harvest as much data as possible with typhoon rains forecast for the weekend.

Vettel was more than 0.8 seconds off Hamilton's pace in the afternoon after clocking only the fifth fastest time in the morning's free practice.

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"But I think overall, it has been OK".

However, neither issue made much difference to Hamilton's crushing dominance and the pace shown by Mercedes suggests they will be favourites to lock up the front row in Saturday's qualifying, as they did in Russian Federation last week. "I am just grateful for the races I have had and how a lot of then have panned out". "But I just came here with the mindset, 'Okay I know where I want to get the vehicle'".

"But overall the auto felt pretty good throughout all sectors, I just had some balance issues, struggling a bit with understeer".

"It's been a clean Friday, no interruptions, no issues with the vehicle or anything". "It's a monster lap and you always think that there's a little bit more here".

"We know what we were doing, I don't think we tried something different to other Fridays", he added. I think probably the lap time flatters us a little bit but we'll see how it is in qualifying tomorrow.

"We know what the auto can do and we need to focus on that and try to get everything out to put us in the best possible position".

What Hamilton is convinced about is that much of the progress made at Mercedes has come from the team having properly unlocked all the potential in its vehicle.

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