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Suzuka: Sebastian Vettel posted the quickest time on Friday in a crash-hit first free practice for the Japanese Grand Prix as Mercedes and Red Bull also showed impressive early pace. Valtteri Bottas joined Hamilton on the front-row as the team comfortably out-paced rivals Ferrari, but the Finn will drop to sixth on the grid after his gearbox penalty is applied.

Mercedes will have been helped by the cool conditions - with track temperature just 26C and slightly damp patches in places after overnight rain - but the advantage suggests Hamilton is favorite to secure his first pole position at Suzuka.

When's the Japanese GP on Sky F1?

After the race in Kuala Lumpur, Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff admitted this year's auto was becoming more and more capricious - while on Thursday Hamilton labelled his vehicle "stubborn".

LEWIS HAMILTON will look to extend his lead over Sebastian Vettel at the Japanese Grand Prix.

However, Hamilton had nothing to worry about on Saturday as he smashed the circuit record in Q2 and Q3, ultimately topping the timesheets with a blistering time of one minute and 27.319 seconds.

Suzuka is one of F1's most hard circuits on which to overtake and asked if he was expecting Vettel, who is 34 points behind him in the title race, to be aggressive off the line, Hamilton told Sky F1: "He won't be any more aggressive than I am".

"It feels incredible", said Hamilton. My driving was really getting better in qualifying. Hamilton also has three runner-up finishes in 2017.

While Bottas stayed in the garage in second practice, Hamilton felt it important to give the spectators something to watch. Qualifying for me is probably the most enjoyable part of the weekend so being able to put together laps like today is what you wait for all weekend. He described the feeling of driving the W08 at lap-record speed as "insane" and "mind-blowing". He slid off at Degner and came close to a massive accident before successfully gathering it up.

Hamilton and Bottas both used the Soft and SuperSoft compound tyre in first practice. Haas' Romain Grosjean was not so lucky, crashing out at Dunlop at the end of Q1.

There was a moment of controversy between Hamilton and Williams' Felipe Massa.

For tomorrow's race, the following drivers have grid penalties, Bottas (5 places), Raikkonen (5 places) and Alonso (35 places).

A three-time victor of the Japanese Grand Prix, Hamilton fired a clear warning to Vettel, who realistically needs to win this weekend to revive his fading title hopes.

The luckless Grosjean was the first to fail to get into Q2, his 1m 30.849s best beaten fractionally by team mate Kevin Magnussen.

Carlos Sainz has the same grid penalty as Palmer but could also face further punishment after being pictured crossing the pit exit line while the light was still red during one of the delays.

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