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.