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Mercedes ended the final practice session at the Suzuka Circuit on top of the timesheets, with Valtteri Bottas heading teammate Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes’ were the only two to set their fastest lap on the soft tyre, with every other driver going fastest on the super softs.

There were two red flags deployed during the sixty-minute session. The first was caused by Bottas who ran wide on the exit of the spoon corner, cutting up astroturf and hitting the barrier sideways on, damaging the right side of his Silver Arrow.

His compatriot Kimi Raikkonen was the other driver to bring out the red flag. On the run into the second Degner corner, the rear of the Ferrari stepped out, sending the Finn on a short trip across the gravel and into the tyre barrier.

Title contender Sebastian Vettel was third, and also had a scary moment at the second Degner. The German took to the gravel but managed to avoid the barriers that claimed his teammate. Max Verstappen followed Vettel in fourth place, with the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo coming home in fifth.

Esteban Ocon also demonstrated his pace around the circuit, with his fastest time being only one-tenth off Ricciardo. The Frenchman was sixth, followed by Nico Hulkenberg in the Renault and Fernando Alonso, who is set to start the Grand Prix from the back of the grid.

Sergio Perez was ninth while Jolyon Palmer’s fastest time saw him enter the top 10. Williams and Haas both seem to be struggling as qualifying draws nearer, with a Q3 spot looking less and less likely for the Britsh and American squads.

Qualifying gets underway at 15:00 local time, with Mercedes emerging as favourites to take the spoils and claim the spot of most advantage for the race tomorrow.

1.   FI   Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:29.055     9
2.   GB   Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:29.069   +0.014 19
3.   DE   Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:29.379   +0.324 23
4.   NL   Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:29.910   +0.855 15
5.   AU   Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:30.018   +0.963 13
6.   FR   Esteban Ocon Force India 1:30.109   +1.054 12
7.   DE   Nico Hülkenberg Renault 1:30.315   +1.260 19
8.   ES   Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:30.424   +1.369 13
9.   MX   Sergio Perez Force India 1:30.563   +1.508 12
10.   GB   Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:30.764   +1.709 22
11.   BR   Felipe Massa Williams 1:30.764   +1.709 21
12.   BE   Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1:30.770   +1.715 18
13.   ES   Carlos Sainz jr Toro Rosso 1:30.799   +1.744 23
14.   DK   Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 1:30.982   +1.927 12
15.   CA   Lance Stroll Williams 1:31.011   +1.956 20
16.   FR   Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1:31.353   +2.298 25
17.   FR   Romain Grosjean Haas F1 1:31.459   +2.404 13
18.   SE   Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:32.579   +3.524 22
19.   DE   Pascal Wehrlein Sauber 1:32.698   +3.643 21
20.   FI   Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:33.962   +4.907 12

(Fergal Walsh)