For the third race in succession, Red Bull have identified Mercedes as being their closest rivals heading into this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.
After Mercedes finished first and second in the first free practice session, the defending world champions hit back in FP2 with a one-two finish, but quickest-man Sebastian Vettel is still keen on finding an extra few tenths in order to pull clear of the Silver Arrows.
“It’s good to see we are up there today, but it’s not always so important,” Vettel said. “We need to step up our game for tomorrow, as Mercedes will be strong in qualifying.
“I think we can still improve. Looking after the tires will be important here, especially during the race. The car works fine at the moment, but we need to make sure we set it up the right way.”
Teammate Mark Webber was also wary of Lotus’ pace in Japan after the Enstone-based team finished second and third in last weekend’s Korean Grand Prix.
“On one lap, it looks pretty tight with the Mercedes and with the Lotus’,” Webber said. “We have to be very accurate and if you’re not, then you get penalised. We have to find performance tonight, it’s our job to make improvements each day and we have a job to do tonight to find some more tenths.”
Vettel is in a position to seal his fourth world title this weekend, but as well as winning the race his closest-rival Fernando Alonso must finish ninth or lower, meaning that the Indian Grand Prix at the end of the month is the more likely location for the German’s coronation.
Lewis Hamilton believes that this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be remembered as the last race with good-looking Formula 1 cars ahead of the introduction of the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection for next year.
Officials from the FIA and F1 Strategy Group confirmed earlier this year that the Halo would be fitted to all cars from the 2018 season in a bid to improve safety standards, with the deaths of Justin Wilson and Jules Bianchi putting head protection high on the agenda for the series’ chiefs.
Hamilton has long made his opposition to the Halo clear, believing it will ruin the look of F1 cars, and echoed his thoughts ahead of the final Halo-less race in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
“It’s the last year of looking good I think in the cars. It’s the last race where the cars will look good,” Hamilton said.
“I think next year, it’s all downhill from there in terms of how they look.
“But safety will go up at least, and maybe it could be successful in some way.”
Hamilton’s F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel was less bothered about the change, believing the field will adjust and move on.
“The cars will look different next year. Everything I’ve seen so far looks different, but on the other hand it is something we all get used to,” Vettel said.
“But no doubt the cars look better now, but we’ll get used to it, and we’ll work on the aesthetics so it can be better. It is less of a big deal.”
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo shared Vettel’s view, saying: “I don’t think it’s gonna be as dramatic as most people make it out to be.”