With a little help from Mother Nature, as well as a continuous problems that the Silver Arrows can not figure out now, the F1 Renault powered cars of Carlos Sainz Jr. of Toro Rosso and Dani Kvyat of Red Bull led the fastest times in Friday practice of sessions one and two respectively, in preparation for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.
The Briton was then forced to abandon his final flying lap after Max Verstappen stopped on the exit of the hairpin and caused a yellow flag.
The defending champion took the chequered flag 19 seconds ahead of his team-mate, with Sebastian Vettel finishing third in his Ferrari.
Mercedes shrugged off signs of fallibility as Hamilton has taken 48-point lead over Rosberg in the championship with five races to go, with Ferrari’s Vettel falling 59 points adrift.
Hamilton suffered his first race-ending retirement in over a year in last Sunday’s race, when the dominant Mercedes were rocked by a mysterious loss of pace, but normal service has been resumed in Japan.
Hamilton will be chasing an eighth victory in 14 races this season in Japan and bidding to equal boyhood hero Ayrton Senna’s tally of 41 race wins.
“It’s a good comeback for the team after a hard weekend in Singapore“, Rosberg said. Rosberg was seven hundredths of a second quicker than Hamilton on their first runs.
“It was a rookie mistake, I put two wheels on the grass, there is no runoff area and there was nowhere to go”, said Kvyat. “The inside line is the inside line, so it was my corner”.
Rosberg was reserving judgment until he saw the incident on replay.
“It was a pity to do that on the start“, Rosberg said. We really turned things around…
McLaren’s beleaguered chief executive Ron Dennis made his first appearance at this weekend’s grand prix after being confined to his hotel room with a virus.
Vettel, meanwhile, was realistic about Ferrari’s chance of inflicting another upset.
“I tried everything”, Vettel said.
“It is a shame this crash, and I am disappointed about the missed opportunity”, he explained.
If last year’s post-race ceremonies were muted in the aftermath of the late Jules Bianchi’s horrific and ultimately fatal accident, only a brief microphone failure prevented Hamilton from expressing his joy on the podium this time.
“I’ll just have to do it next time out”.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo qualified seventh on track, with Romain Grosjean eighth for Lotus, and Sergio Perez ninth for Sahara Force India.
Both Red Bull cars finished outside the top 10.
The only other major drama in the race came when Will Stevens almost spun his Manor GP entry coming out of the famed 130R corner, forcing young American rookie Alexander Rossi to narrowly avoid his teammate.