Lewis Hamilton is happy that his unpredictable Mercedes is in better shape ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix despite heavy rain severely limiting running in Friday practice.

The Briton leads the world championship by 34 points after he eked everything out of his car to seal second place in Malaysia last weekend despite both Ferrari and Red Bull being faster around Sepang.

After the race in Kuala Lumpur, Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff admitted this year’s car was becoming more and more capricious – while on Thursday Hamilton labelled his car “stubborn”.

Sebastian Vettel is his closest rival and the Ferrari man topped the timesheet ahead of Hamilton after first practice at Suzuka.

Heavy rain fell before and during second practice, with half of the 90-minute session written off before five drivers set full lap times.

Hamilton was the quickest of that quintet and he was pleased with what he saw from his Mercedes even with limited running.

“It’s been an interesting day, the car is feeling much better than it was in Malaysia,” he said.

“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.

“The car feels back to normal, so I’m ready to race. The fans are pretty special here – to be out there in the rain, waiting for us to go out through the whole of FP2.

“That’s also another reason I wanted to go out and at least give them a little bit of a show. So hopefully at least they got to see something as not many cars went out.”

Hamilton’s former McLaren team-mate Jenson Button is at Suzuka and he believes the current title fight is bringing fans back to F1.

“This year, it is an important year for Formula One, it really is,” said the 2009 world champion. “With the way the cars are it is a big improvement, the drivers get out of the car and you can see they have been working hard.

“They are happy, they enjoy driving these cars which helps the sport, drivers are in a better place which helps the sponsors, helps the team and the fans love it.

“Also you have two or three teams fighting for wins and that hasn’t been the case for so long. I think Formula One is in a good place, it really is, and having three teams fighting it out is what needs to continue in the future.”

Red Bull won in Malaysia as Max Verstappen took the chequered flag and could still play a part in the championship shake-up here.

Daniel Ricciardo was close behind Hamilton in first practice with the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas fifth.