Lewis Hamilton says his Mercedes car feels "back to normal" following Friday practice at the Japanese Grand Prix, after the team struggled for pace in Malaysia and Singapore.
Although Hamilton claimed an unlikely win from fifth on the grid in Singapore and finished second at last weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix to extend his championship lead over title rival Sebastian Vettel, Mercedes had been unable to match Ferrari for outright pace at both events.
Mercedes split its aerodynamic strategy in Sepang in an attempt to discover why it had been struggling to extract performance at a circuit that should have suited its Formula One car on paper. Hamilton stuck to the old-spec W08 and salvaged second place, while teammate Valtteri Bottas finished a distant fifth with the new aero package.
Both drivers ran the upgraded package in Japan on Friday, and despite being edged out in the dry opening session by Vettel, Hamilton was pleased to report that his car felt competitive again.
"It's been an interesting day, the car is feeling much better than it was in Malaysia," Hamilton said. "The car feels back to normal, so I'm ready to race."
Hamilton topped a rain-affected afternoon session as only five drivers completed a timed-lap. After finishing over 2s off the pace in wet conditions during FP1 in Malaysia, Hamilton said it was important to assess how his Mercedes was handling in the wet with further rain on the radar for Saturday.
"I'm glad that we had the dry session for FP1. In FP2, there was a lot of rain, but it felt really important to go out and assess the track and see how the car was feeling as the car was not good in the wet in Malaysia. It was important to find out if the car was still misbehaving."
While he has won at Suzuka on two previous occasions in 2014 and 2015, Hamilton has never taken pole position around the circuit. When asked if he feels it will be a close qualifying between Mercedes and Ferrari, Hamilton replied: "Honestly I don't know at the moment. The car was a lot better this morning in the dry than it was in the last race.
"That being said the Ferrari's went out and did some impressive pace, they were quite quick on the straights, so we will see. I'm not really quite sure. I think we are definitely strong so hopefully we will be competing with them."