Nico Rosberg emerged as the fastest man from a hectic free practice three on Saturday afternoon.
Teams lost almost all their Friday practice running to rain, leaving them to squeeze 180 minutes of testing into a single hour before qualifying.
Mercedes opened with long-run simulations while the track was still green from yesterday’s rain before switching to new sets of medium-compound tyres to rocket up the timesheets, with Rosberg pipping teammate Lewis Hamilton by 0.3 seconds with a 1 minutes 33.995 seconds — making him the only man to dip below the 94-second mark.
The one-two lock-out is an important recovery step after last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix in which both Mercedes cars were uncharacteristically off the pace and sitting at the head of the midfield, but Rosberg said on Friday that he was unconcerned about the car’s fundamental performance.
“We are confident because it’s the same that has won all those races prior to Singapore and we haven’t changed anything,” he said. “We still think we are looking good and that we are going to be quick, and we are not panicking or anything.”
Daniel Ricciardo looked at home around Suzuka, having topped the time sheets early when Red Bull Racing opted to do its qualifying simulation runs at the beginning of the 60-minute session.
The Australian put his Red Bull Racing machine just 0.5 seconds off the pace, signalling he may be on for a podium challenge for the second race in the row.
Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa were 0.3 seconds further behind for Williams, before Kimi Räikkönen’s lead Ferrari put itself in sixth, a little over one second off the lead Mercedes’ pace.
Ferrari saved its qualifying runs until the last ten minutes — when the track would be at its fastest once the rest of the field had rubbered it in — but its pace left a great deal to be desired after its standout victory just a week ago.
Sebastian Vettel, moreover, was alleged to have breached article 30.13 of the sporting regulations, which reads, “At no time may a car be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person”.
Nico Hulkenberg was also called to the stewards over the incident, which occurred at the beginning of the session. It remains under investigation.
2015 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX: FREE PRACTICE THREE
|3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:34.497||+0.502s||22|
|7||Max Verstappen||Toro Rosso-Renault||1:35.160||+1.165s||26|
|10||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso-Renault||1:35.963||+1.968s||29|
|11||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1:36.110||+2.115s||19|
|14||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:36.294||+2.299s||23|
|17||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||1:36.430||+2.435s||21|