Japanese Grand Prix: Nico Rosberg piles pressure on Lewis Hamilton after dominating practice

Rosberg topped both first and second practice to add to a difficult week for Mercedes teammate Hamilton

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Lewis Hamilton's hopes of wrestling the title initiative back from Nico Rosberg got off to a disappointing start in Japan after he finished behind his title rival in both practice sessions on Friday.

Rosberg is 23 points clear of his Mercedes team-mate Hamilton in the championship race after the Briton retired from the last race in Malaysia with an engine failure.

Hamilton initially hinted at sabotage from within his own team following more mechanical trouble. "Somebody, or someone, doesn't want me to win this year," he said afterwards. Hamilton, 31, later insisted he was referring to a "higher power".

He then courted criticism in Suzuka on Thursday after he fooled around on his phone during the official drivers' press conference.

And Hamilton, who is on a four-race losing streak, failed to get on top of Rosberg in either session here.

Rosberg was one quarter of a second faster than Hamilton this morning, before his best lap of minute and 32.350 seconds in the days's second session saw him finish 0.072 sec quicker than his Mercedes team-mate.

While the slender margin to Rosberg can hardly be considered a catastrophe, Hamilton, who admitted in Malaysia that he feared the title was slipping away from him, would no doubt have preferred to be ahead of the German.

Rosberg however, has been on pole here for the past two seasons and failed to convert either into a win with Hamilton triumphing on both occasions. Indeed the German is yet to open his winning account in Suzuka.

Mercedes can seal the constructors' championship this weekend - their third in as many seasons - and Formula One's all-conquering team were unsurprisingly the class of the field once more on Friday.

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was the best of the rest, 0.323 seconds slower than Rosberg, with Max Verstappen the only other driver within one second of the Mercedes duo. Sebastian Vettel, who will serve a three-place grid penalty on Sunday for his role in the opening-corner collision with Rosberg in Malaysia, was fifth in the order.

At Honda's home race, McLaren's Fernando Alonso recovered from a spin at the Spoon Curve in the opening session, to end the day eighth fastest. His team-mate Jenson Button could manage only 16th.


Alonso engaged in some early wheel-to-wheel running with Sebastian Vettel (Getty)

British rookie Jolyon Palmer, who claimed the first point of his career after he finished 10th in Malaysia, was 18th, half-a-second slower than his Renault team-mate Kevin Magnussen.

Final Times after Second Practice:

1 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1min 32.250secs

2 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:32.322

3 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:32.573

4 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1:33.061

5 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:33.103

6 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India 1:33.570

7 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India 1:33.873

8 Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren 1:33.985

9 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams 1:34.028

10 Carlos Sainz (Spa) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:34.086

11 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams 1:34.127

12 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 1:34.150

13 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas F1 1:34.241

14 Daniil Kvyat (Rus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:34.305

15 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Renault 1:34.339

16 Jenson Button (Gbr) McLaren 1:34.398

17 Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) Haas F1 1:34.643

18 Jolyon Palmer (Gbr) Renault 1:34.760

19 Felipe Nasr (Bra) Sauber-Ferrari 1:34.824

20 Pascal Wehrlein (Ger) Manor Racing 1:35.292

21 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Manor Racing 1:35.400

22 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber-Ferrari 1:36.318