Sebastian Vettel, with his fourth straight world championship in sight, laid down a marker in Friday's practice at the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix by finishing top of the tree in the second session.
Vettel was the only driver to break the 1:34s barrier, timing 1:33.752, with Red Bull teammate Mark Webber just behind on 1:34.020.
There were plenty of veers and swerves at Suzuka, with Pastor Maldonado, Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez all falling to come back into the pits in their cars.
"The car balance is decent, but I think we can still improve," Vettel said. "Looking after the tyres will be important here, especially during the race. The car works fine at the moment, but we need to make sure we set it up the right way. It's good to see we are up there today (Friday), but it's not always so important; we need to step up our game for tomorrow (Saturday), as Mercedes will be strong in qualifying.
The Mercedes took third and sixth fastest times with Nico Rosberg coming closest to the two Red Bull's while Lewis Hamilton was three place further adrift, sandwiched by the two Lotuses of Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean.
"This track is so beautiful to drive, it's fast and flowing, and our car really does feel good here," Hamilton said. "But it's also a very unforgiving and challenging circuit; you're always on the limit so the trick is to balance and control that limit. I'm happy with where our car is after the first practice sessions today although, of course, we would love to be more competitive.
"We've got some work to do this evening on the tyre management in particular. It's too early to think about what we can achieve but I'm looking forward to a competitive qualifying tomorrow and then we will have to see what we can do in the race."
The two Ferrari's of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso finished with the eighth and tenth fastest times respectively with Alonso taking a spin on the track before just about correcting himself.
"We were not as competitive as we wanted to be and now we must try and improve, putting together a series of changes that we already have in mind," Alonso said. "Luckily, when I spun I didn't ruin the tyres: we also managed to use them on the long run with a full fuel load, even if we definitely lost a few extra tenths from the first lap."
Where to watch
P3 is scheduled for 7.30 a.m. (IST) start, with qualifying set to take place from 11.30 a.m. (IST). Both the sessions are scheduled for a live telecast on Star Sports 2 and ESPN HD. You can also catch the action live online by clicking the official link HERE.