SUZUKA (AFP) - George Russell and Lewis Hamilton made it a Mercedes one-two ahead of title-chasing Max Verstappen in a wet-dry second practice on Friday (Oct 7) for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Runaway Red Bull leader Verstappen can clinch his second straight world title on Sunday if he wins the race with the fastest lap, no matter what his rivals do.
But he was pipped to the quickest time in the second practice session by the Mercedes pair, with Russell clocking a fastest lap of 1min 41.935sec.
Seven-time world champion Hamilton followed him 0.235sec behind, with Verstappen coming in third, 0.851sec behind Russell.
A rainy start to the session at Suzuka meant the drivers began on wet tyres but switched to intermediates once the conditions improved.
That did not satisfy Verstappen though, with the flying Dutchman telling his team "all tyre are s***, no grip", over the radio.
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, Verstappen's nearest rival in the championship standings, finished 2.744sec behind Russell in 11th.
The Monaco driver bounced off the track and found himself on the gravel at one point, complaining that the jolt had damaged his front tyre.
His team later found a problem with his brakes and called him in before sending him back out 10 minutes later.
"The feeling is totally bad for some reason, I will try to make it better," Leclerc said over the radio.
Verstappen's Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez was fourth, followed by Haas driver Kevin Magnussen and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz in sixth.
Mick Schumacher of Haas did not take part in the second practice after he crashed in the first session.
Schumacher spun into the barriers and onto the grass after the chequered flag, destroying his front wing and requiring a new chassis.
Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso went quickest in the first practice.
The Japanese Grand Prix returns on Sunday after a three-year absence because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dry conditions are expected for Saturday's qualifying but some rain is forecast for Sunday.