Mercedes builds during rain, wind-affected F1 session
SATURDAY practice at Suzuka has frustrated Mercedes' chasing pack, who were unable to unlock any potential in the dry during a rain and wind-affected session.
Practice started with light showers that soon gained in intensity and forced the field to return to the garage after just 20 minutes.
The rain passed after another 10 minutes and the track began to dry, although drivers then reported issues with rear grip as wind gusts pummelled the circuit.
The issues were highlighted by Renault's Nico Hulkenberg, who crashed into the barriers at Turn 5 to bring out a red flag in the closing stages and end the session.
"The wind is really catching the drivers out. They're all complaining and that's why we are seeing more drivers lose control than we did yesterday," Sky F1's Anthony Davidson said during the session.
Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton made it a hat-trick of quickest practice times in Japan, although his 1.29.599 on Saturday was almost 1.5 seconds slower than his best time on Friday.
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel was 0.116 seconds slower than Hamilton, followed by teammate Kimi Raikkonen a further four tenths back.
Davidson said he was surprised by the early pace of the two Ferraris, which were heavily upstaged on Friday.
"It was way closer than expected," he said.
Paul di Resta concurred: "I think we could have quite a battle on our hands."
Max Verstappen was fourth fastest, 0.170 seconds quicker than Australia's Daniel Ricciardo, who the Dutchman has outqualified in seven consecutive races.
The Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, followed by Carlos Sainz of Renault and Haas's Kevin Magnussen completed the top ten.
With Sky Sports