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Bottas, who was more than a little irked at having to sacrifice a rare victory in Russian Federation, sounded a note of caution before Saturday's rain-threatened qualifying at Suzuka after lapping around half-a-second slower than Hamilton in practice.

Lewis Hamilton believes a better understanding of Mercedes' Formula 1 auto, rather than any major upgrade, is behind its step up in form in recent grands prix.

With five races to go, his fifth world championship is nearly in the bag.

But Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff attempted to play down the significance of the gap to Ferrari.

The runaway championship leader stretched his advantage to Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel to 50 points with just five races left this season after Mercedes ordered Valtteri Bottas to allow Hamilton to pass, sacrificing a rare victory for the Finn. Another Hamilton win in Suzuka will all but end Vettel's hopes of winning his fifth title ahead of the Briton.

"It's also going to be a lot warmer in the race, so that will be different, but at least we got enough running already in dry conditions, so it doesn't matter if it's wet tomorrow". "Who knows what will happen in the next races?"

Bottas insisted that he would not have to wait for Hamilton to wrap up his fifth Formula One title before being allowed to take the chequered flag.

Twitter reacts Manchester City held to goalless draw by Liverpool
Not struggling in the sense of playing badly but I felt as though Liverpool just had the edge on them when I was watching. We tried to win but at the end we need to be happy - I need to be happy - that we didn't lose it because of the penalty.

"Obviously you don't want to commit suicide", said Vettel, who has won five races to Hamilton's eight in 2018.

Hamilton says the pace turnaround between Mercedes and Ferrari has been a surprise, but he does not think the explanation comes from any new parts on the vehicle.

"I don't like the now or never approach, I don't think there's much sense in that", he said.

The Italian and Singapore Grands Prix left the German particularly frustrated with Ferrari's tactics in qualifying, which left him unable to catch a rapidly improving Mercedes.

"It's always so hard to say it, from Friday", the Finn said. Even then, there remains a sense that Ferrari are simply clutching at straws.

The Mercedes driver was fastest in both the morning and afternoon sessions by quite a large margin, and at one point in FP2 he declared over the team radio "This track is awesome!" Engine performance is improving, efficiency is improving, and vehicle stability is improving.

Although Suzuka is expected to again suit the Red Bulls, Mercedes have won the last four races in Japan, three courtesy of Hamilton, and will be favourites to extend that run.