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Hamilton quickest in FP3 as weather conditions restrict running


Ahead of today's sole practice session, the air temperature is 25.3 degrees C, while the track temperature is 26.1 degrees. As was the case yesterday morning, the track is a little damp following overnight rain, and the heavy cloud suggests further downfalls will follow. Though it remained dry for both sessions yesterday, this isn't expected to be the case today.

Unlike yesterday, it is seriously windy, especially the tailwind in The Esses, which should add to the difficulties facing those teams already encountering balance issues.

Lewis Hamilton topped the timesheets in both of yesterday's session, the Briton claiming he is driving better than ever and clearly also loving every minute of it.

And why wouldn't he?

That mid-season pace from Ferrari has all but disappeared, and as Sebastian Vettel looks hard pressed to make up an 0.8s gap, the only other talking point featuring the Italian team this weekend - other than the cause of that loss of pace - is, 'what the hell is that Mission Minnow thing all about.

Red Bull was also struggling, but the fact is that as Mercedes edges ahead, it appears to be a case of the Austrian team and its Italian rivals trying to put a brave face on it.

As ever, it is the midfield battle that looks set to provide the real entertainment this weekend, with seventh to eighteenth covered by a second. Force India, Haas, Toro Rosso and Sauber appearing to have the edge over Renault.

With Toro Rosso using its latest-spec Honda engine, Franz Tost is demanding at least one car gets into Q3, which means Pierre Gasly will be extra busy this morning having missed much of FP2 with a fuel system issue.

Ferrari has placed all its eggs in the supersoft basket, and based on yesterday's evidence - which saw some angry blistering on Vettel's rears, this will further play into Mercedes hands.

The lights go green and Stroll, Hulkenberg and Raikkonen lead the way.

With an eye on the sky, more and more drivers head out, most are on softs, though the Ferraris are on supersofts - as if they have a choice.

Sainz is warned of a damp patch just after the bridge.

Raikkonen sets the benchmark, a 30.054, as Sainz goes second (31.853) ahead of Hulkenberg.

Ricciardo goes second with a 31.016 and Verstappen third (31.439), only to be demoted when Vettel posts 30.161.

As Hamilton reports a vibration in his tyres, there are claims of rain at the top end of the circuit (Spoon).

Because of the weather threat, there is the inevitable traffic issue, a problem at the best of times here, Hamilton having to back off behind a very slow Williams.

On-board with Vettel reveals moisture on the camera lens and as there are no greens - far less purples - appearing on the timing screens, it is obvious the rain is compromising things.

Having aborted his previous lap, Hamilton goes quickest in S1, as teammate Bottas goes third overall (30.564). Missing the final corner, Hamilton fails to improve and remains 19th (35.141).

Vettel confirms "heavy rain" at Turns 13 and 14.

Understandably, most drivers opt to pit.

It's: Raikkonen, Vettel, Bottas, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Leclerc, Sainz, Grosjean, Ericsson and Hulkenberg.

Grosjean, Magnussen, Perez, Ocon, Hartley and Hamilton are the only drivers still on track.

As Hamilton is told its "brightening up", Vettel is informed that it is "raining in the pitlane", and Bottas that "it will last ten minutes". Clearly believing the latter reports, Hamilton pits.

Of course, the fact that the crowd has changed into macs is the best indication of the conditions and how it might continue.

All twenty drivers in the pits.

The conundrum being that it isn't wet enough for full wets or Inters, while the threat of further rain this afternoon and tomorrow means that teams will need to save their wet weather rubber.

With 28:00 remaining, Bottas heads out on supersofts, the wind appearing to have done a great job in drying the racing line, helped by the warm temperatures.

As he heads back into the pits for a practice start, he reports: "It feels OK, just the kerbs, they are still wet."

As the Finn heads out again, Hamilton opts to join him.

If it's good enough for Mercedes, it's good enough for Alonso, as the Spaniard heads out also.

The Ferraris head out, as do Verstappen and Ocon.

Ricciardo told to mind the kerbs and Astroturf.

Vettel goes quickest in the final sector, and though he doesn't improve his overall time it shows that there are gains to be made.

Suddenly, the skies are blue and the sun is shining, and with 16:00 remaining we might finally get some action.

Raikkonen runs wide after being caught out, possibly by the wind, in T7.

Perez is the first to improve, the Mexican posting 32.283 to go ninth, as Vettel runs wide exiting the second Degner, having posted a PB in S1.

"Still struggling with the rear in sector one," reports Vettel.

Raikkonen goes quickest in S3, but fails to improve his overall time.

Gasly reports being "really down on power", which is not what Toro Rosso or Honda will want to hear.

All eyes on Hamilton, as he begins his first flying lap. Going quickest in S1, he loses pace in S2. Meanwhile Vettel has gone quickest overall with a 29.715, but moments later Hamilton crosses the line at 29.599. Both on the supers, however, Hamilton's lap dropped off as the lap went on.

PBs in all three sectors see Grosjean improve to 8th with a 31.636, just behind his Haas teammate.

Leclerc runs wide in T13 but still manages to go ninth (31.760).

A 30.304 sees Verstappen improve to fourth, as Gasly complains of oscillations, an issue the Honda suffered in Russia also.

As replay shows Verstappen really hitting the kerbs, Ricciardo consolidates sixth with a 3.474.

Another hot lap from Hamilton, but as his tyres are past their best it is more of a lukewarm lap.

Hulkenberg is off and has hit the barriers at T4 - in the middle of the Esses. The session is red flagged.

Replay shows the German running a little wide and losing it on the dust and spinning off into the welcoming barriers. The right-side of the car is quite damaged, while there is bound to be concern in terms of the gearbox.

The accident means there is no further running, and a heavy schedule for the Renault mechanics, though the damage suggests Hulkenberg will not take part in qualifying.

The session, such as it is, ends with Hamilton quickest, ahead of Vettel, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Bottas, Ricciardo, Ocon, Perez, Sainz and Magnussen.

Grosjean is eleventh, ahead of Leclerc, Hartley, Stroll, Hulkenberg, Ericsson, Alonso, Sirotkin, Gasly and Vandoorne.

Not for the first time, a session leave us with more questions than answers, but in all honesty, whatever way you look at it, Hamilton is looking very, very strong.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Suzuka, here.


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