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Nico Rosberg assesses Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel's world title battle

07 October 2017

The British driver's rival for the world championship, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, could manage only third, four tenths down on Hamilton but will start on the front row after Bottas's penalty.

Vettel's time of 1:29.166 was nearly 20 seconds quicker than Hamilton's wet run, the German edging out the Formula One championship leader and Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo.

But the hefty margin he holds over his rival is down primarily to misfortune striking the German, with Mercedes having struggled to extract speed from what team boss Toto Wolff has described as a "capricious" auto for two straight weekends now.

Rosberg's victory last season put him on course for his championship victory, while Hamilton's 2014 and 2015 victories also helped him to world championship glory.

"In the last years, we have performed very strongly there".

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"We've worked hard for the auto to hopefully work well in the race".

Red Bull were again in the mix here, with Daniel Ricciardo lapping only 0.375s off Vettel's morning pace, but unlike Hamilton, he was anxious that this was a product of very high downforce settings that hurt his vehicle on the long pit straight.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen, who stunned Hamilton to win in Malaysia last weekend, registered the fourth fastest lap in 1:29.910 ahead of team mate Daniel Ricciardo, with Esteban Ocon's Force India next quickest. While Hamilton admitted his auto has been a handful at times this season, he said it has tended to be better to drive in qualifying trim, allowing him to rack up 10 poles so far in 2017.

"It's been a really good day - every lap was fantastic", Hamilton told Jenson Button after securing his first pole at Suzuka.

Heavy rain between the two practice sessions on Friday saw FP2 delayed until conditions improved, with the FIA race director Charlie Whiting only willing to allow running to take place in the final 45 minutes of the session.

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Drivers 1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) - 281 2.

Vettel, who had a new engine for the race in Malaysia, is a four-time victor in Japan.

Mixed strategies: Knowing they would face a five-place penalty for gearbox changes, both Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen opted to set their times in Q2 on the soft tyres. It's not an insurmountable lead, but with both drivers in top form, Vettel needs wins to stay in the fight. "This year it's different".

First out in Q1 were Hamilton, Ericsson and Wehrlein followed by Vettel and Gasly.

"After Malaysia, we have found ourselves analyzing our problems, beginning to understand their causes and working on solutions", Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said.

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There are several other variables that might factor into Ferrari's decision if they want to put a new gearbox on Vettel's vehicle. But we're certainly close.

Nico Rosberg assesses Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel's world title battle