Hamilton: Red Bull have the edge
But both the World Champions and McLaren are predicting a very close battle at Suzuka
By Pete Gill and James Galloway. Last Updated: 05/10/12 10:39am
Lewis Hamilton has continued to maintain that Red Bull hold a slight edge over McLaren heading into the critical Japanese GP weekend.
The two F1 behemoths looked to be separated by wafer-thin margins throughout Friday's practice sessions at Suzuka, with Hamilton's team-mate Jenson Button topping a McLaren one-two in the morning before Red Bull's Mark Webber edged out Hamilton in the second.
The Mercedes-bound driver's claim on Thursday that the RB8 is currently the fastest car on the grid drew a withering response from Webber when the Australian spoke to Sky Sports News' Rachel Brookes after Friday's track action. Nonetheless, Hamilton continues to play down his own chances of victory.
"That lap that I did felt pretty good," said Hamilton of the 1:32.707 which saw him two-tenths adrift of Webber's table-topping effort. "But it can always be better and Saturday is going to be interesting. The Red Bulls are very quick as I said, with their long runs as well. The race looks like it's with them."
McLaren, however, seem to think differently, with the team radioing their assurances to the 2008 World Champion at the close of Practice Two that he was lapping a tenth faster than Vettel when both cars were believed to be running identical heavy-fuel loads.
In any case, what seems abundantly clear is that there is little or nothing to choose between the two teams ahead of round fifteen of the championship.
"I think it is going to be a competitive qualifying session, as I don't think any car really stands out at the front," added Button, who will abandon the erroneous set-up he experimented with during the afternoon session.
"In P1 the car was good, in P2 we tried something that we couldn't go back on as it would take too long and it didn't really work for me that well.
"So we know how to put the car for P3 and with a few little improvements we can be competitive."
Webber is also forecasting a closely-fought battle at the front. "We know we have work to do, they have a strong car as do we, but I don't think anyone is dominant at the minute," he told Sky Sports News.
As for Hamilton, it appears as if his impending move to Mercedes is very much at the front of his mind even as he prepares for a weekend that will either break or partially remake his faltering title bid.
"I think this will be the best car I'll probably here have for a while," Lewis told Sky Sports News with a faintly wistful air.