Lewis Hamilton admits it was a “real struggle” as he finished outside of the top 10 in both practice sessions at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Hamilton finished 16th in P1 and 14th in P2 and half a second off Mercedes team-mate George Russell – who came fifth in the later session in Suzuka.
Max Verstappen topped both timesheets and finished 1.141 seconds ahead of Hamilton. The seven-time world champion admitted it was a “pretty bad day” for him and hope to be able to “at least back up” Russell this weekend.
“It was a pretty bad day to be honest,” Hamilton said.
“A real struggle out there. A long way off, two seconds off in the first session and over a second off in the second.
“Just working away at trying to fix the car, fix the balance. It’s just figuring out what is wrong. We were obviously much closer in the last race but we didn’t have any high-speed (corners) and nowhere near the speeds of the corners here.
“Our car has more often than not been a little bit weaker in the high-speed corners, looking at places like Silverstone for example. An area where we need to work on, getting the car a little bit more in a sweet spot and not overheating our tyres as much.
“We’ll work on it overnight and try to turn it around for [Saturday]. We definitely won’t be winning this weekend but if I can move a little bit further up the order so I can at least back up George, who did not such a bad lap. A tough one.”
For Charles Leclerc it was a far better day as he finished 0.320 seconds behind championship leader Verstappen.
Leclerc says he has adjusted his driving style with the new floor after coming second to Carlos Sainz in the last three events.
“[The new floor] did what we expected it to do which gave us a little bit of consistency which was good to see,” he said.
“I don’t think there was a lot of performance into it but let’s wait and see, we keep learning about this car.
“The last two or three races we learnt a lot and now it’s about putting all of it together which we did in Singapore and we need to do that here too.
“Red Bull seem to be extremely quick this weekend but I don’t think we are so far off.”
McLaren’s Lando Norris finished in third as he looks to improve on his second-placed finish in Singapore last weekend.
“The pace has been pretty good,” Norris, who is looking for his first F1 win, said. “Probably one of the closest times we’ve been to Red Bull and the front lot on a Friday so encouraging on a pace point of view.
“But the car feels pretty all over the place. But I think it does for the majority, I think it’s very low grip. I don’t think it’s just us in particular, it’s just a handful.
“For us, if we can just try and calm it down a little bit, bring the balance together then I think we can have a good day (on Saturday).”