Vettel: Suzuka podium still in reach despite grid penalty

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Sebastian Vettel believes he can still finish on the podium in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix despite facing a three-place grid penalty for the race.

Vettel was hit with the sanction by the FIA stewards for causing a collision at the start of last weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, making contact with Max Verstappen and Nico Rosberg at the first corner.

Vettel led Ferrari’s charge in the first Formula 1 practice session at Suzuka on Friday, finishing third behind the Mercedes pair of Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

The German slipped back to fifth in FP2, revealing after the session that he had been struggling with the balance of his car throughout the day.

“I am not entirely happy with the balance of the car today, but I am sure this is something we can work on,” Vettel said.

“I didn’t try the medium compound, we focused more on the soft tire in the morning, and on the very hard tire in the afternoon. We tried to do our homework, but the balance is not there yet. We will now need to look at the data and see where we are, also compared to the others.

“Ideally you would always love to have more grip around here, because it feels fantastic if you do, but I am sure we can tune the balance and distribute the grip a bit better, so that we will be in a better shape tomorrow.”

In spite of his struggles, Vettel believes that a podium finish is still within Ferrari’s grasp as it looks to keep up with rivals Red Bull in the race for second in the constructors’ championship.

“As for race expectations, a podium finish is always possible, there might even be rain at some point,” Vettel said.

“It sure doesn’t help if you start further back because of the grid penalty, but overtaking is possible, even if it is not so easy.”

Teammate Kimi Raikkonen had his running in FP2 cut short after a small issue arose on his car, and the Finn is confident that more pace can be found ahead of qualifying.

“It was one of those days that seem a bit tricky but in the end got better,” Raikkonen said.

“My feeling with the car was not very nice, I suffered a lot with understeer and I was struggling with the balance through the first sector, but the lap time was OK. In the end we got a bit better, but we are not still where we want to be.

“In the second session I had a small electric issue, likely with a sensor, but we changed it and it was ok. Tomorrow is another day, we’ll try to work on small things to try to improve.

“If we get the car where we want and with a better feeling for sure we can go quite a bit faster.”

Qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 1am ET on Saturday.