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Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes in 'sweeter spot' after 'best session' of season at Japanese GP

Lewis Hamilton was pleased with Mercedes' performance as he finished fifth, a place behind team-mate George Russell, in first practice in Suzuka; watch Japanese GP qualifying at 7am on Saturday live on Sky Sports F1, with the race at 6am on Sunday

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Lewis Hamilton was encouraged by the Mercedes car's positive performance and described Friday practice as the 'best session they've had this year'.

Lewis Hamilton says his Mercedes is in a "sweeter spot" at the Japanese Grand Prix after the Silver Arrows delivered an improved display in their "best session" of the season in Suzuka.

Mercedes have endured a hugely disappointing start to their campaign, falling 71 points back from leaders Red Bull in the constructors' standings after a double DNF at the third round of the season in Australia.

Expectations had been reset ahead of their arrival at Suzuka, where they have struggled in recent years, but Hamilton was fifth and team-mate George Russell fourth in first practice before the second session was almost completely washed out by rain.

"It was a great session, the best session we've had this year and the best the car has felt this year so far," Hamilton said.

"It felt really positive. Exciting. It's a circuit that every driver loves to drive. In the last couple of years, we've had a really difficult car and balance to drive here.

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Watch the best moments during practice one and two from day one of the Japanese Grand Prix.

"Given the difficult last few races we've had, great work has been done in this past week and we have seemed to hit the ground in a bit more of a sweeter spot. I haven't made any changes since."

Hamilton, who is leaving Mercedes to join Ferrari at the end of the season, has struggled to keep pace with Russell over the opening races, being outqualified on all three occasions by his compatriot.

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The seven-time world champion has explained that he has felt less comfortable in the W15 than Russell, with Mercedes struggling to optimise the set-up of a car that was radically redesigned over the winter.

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With Hamilton just 0.013s back from Russell in first practice, the pair managed to split Ferrari duo Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, who so far this season have been comfortably outperforming Mercedes.

Asked about his prospects for the remainder of the weekend, Hamilton added: "It's hard to know. I think we have a better baseline to start from so as long as we don't make too many changes and mess it up, I think we'll probably stay where we are.

"It's a shame we didn't get that session. They have changed the tyre rules so no one runs on the intermediate, which doesn't make sense really."

Russell: The car was feeling really nice

While Hamilton and Russell both retired in Melbourne, the former with an engine failure and the latter due to a crash, the most concerning element of the weekend for Mercedes was their lack of pace.

After reviewing their performance in Australia, Mercedes admitted that the W15 appears to be struggling most in hotter conditions.

While Russell described Mercedes' Friday pace in Japan as a "pleasant surprise", the fact the upturn came in the cool Suzuka conditions provides a possible explanation.

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George Russell is cautiously optimistic with the performance of his Mercedes after exceeding expectations in opening practice at Suzuka.

"FP1, we definitely performed better than we expected, so that was a pleasant surprise," Russell 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 to make that car a little bit more consistent when conditions are variable, so time will tell."

Russell will go into Saturday's qualifying, live on Sky Sports F1 at 7am, wary of the pressure he and his competitors will be placed under by the high tyre degradation levels at the high-speed circuit.

"It's going to be very challenging because it's a clear one-lap tyre in qualifying, you can't do multiple laps on the tyre," he added.

"Most drivers may only have three or four sets of qualifying, so you've got to be nailing those laps at 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."

Sky Sports F1's live Japanese GP schedule

Saturday April 6
3.15am: Japanese GP Practice Three (session starts at 3.30am)*
6am: Japanese GP Qualifying build-up*
7am: Japanese GP Qualifying*
9am: Ted's Qualifying Notebook*
9.30am: Japanese GP Qualifying replay

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Look back on some of the most exciting title deciders to take place at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Sunday April 7
5am: Grand Prix Sunday Japanese GP build-up*
8am: Chequered Flag: Japanese GP reaction*
9am: Ted's Notebook*
9.30am: Japanese Grand Prix highlights*
10.30am: Japanese Grand Prix replay

*also live on Sky Sports Main Event

Formula 1's biggest ever season continues with the Japanese Grand Prix, live on Sky Sports F1 this weekend. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership - No contract, cancel anytime

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