Lewis Hamilton beat McLaren team-mate and title rival Fernando Alonso to fastest time in second practice at the Japanese Grand Prix on Friday.
Mount Fuji forms the backdrop to this year's Japanese GP
The Englishman, who has claimed his team would prefer him to win the title, beat Alonso by 0.214 seconds with a lap of one minute 18.734 at Fuji.
Ferrari lagged behind in the afternoon, but were comfortably quicker than McLaren in the morning.
Kimi Raikkonen was 0.548secs quicker than Alonso in the first session.
They were split by Raikkonen's team-mate Felipe Massa, who was 0.4secs adrift of the Finn, with Hamilton fourth.
With three races to go, Hamilton has a two-point lead over Alonso and 13 over Raikkonen.
The Japanese race is being held at the Fuji Speedway, in the shadow of Mount Fuji, for the first time in 30 years.
The track has received mixed reviews, and the drivers are unanimous that it is no match for Suzuka, which hosted the race for 20 years until last year.
Suzuka will return for 2009, with the tracks sharing the race on alternate years from then onwards.
Raikkonen was comfortably fastest in the morning session at Fuji
Hamilton declared himself pleased with his day's work.
"It's obviously always a challenge to get to know a new track, but I have tried that three times this year already," he said.
"The engineers and I walked the circuit yesterday, and I was really looking forward to getting in the car this morning.
"I stayed on the same set of tyres in the first session just to get a feel for the layout.
"The grip levels increased throughout, but the challenge is when you don't have a real idea of when the levels will stabilise.
"I experienced no problems and we found a good basis and made continuous progress.
This is a demanding track but at the same time it's enjoyable to drive
"In the second session we focused on some longer runs and everything seems to be going in the right direction."
Alonso echoed his thoughts.
"So far so good and we experienced no problems," he said. "I'm looking forward to a competitive weekend."
Raikkonen said he expected Ferrari to be strong again this weekend following their one-two in Belgium two weeks ago.
"It is quite difficult to find the best set-up on this track, especially for the final sector," he said.
"This is a demanding track but at the same time it's enjoyable to drive.
"The car was well-balanced. In the second session we tried a change to the set-up, which did not produce the expected results and so we went back to the previous one. We have to study the data to find the best settings.
"Obviously, it is very early to say where we are compared to our main rivals. But in any case, I think it will be a very close fight."
Second practice times at the Japanese Grand Prix:
1. Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1:18.734
2. Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren-Mercedes 1:18.948
3. Felipe Massa (Brz) Ferrari 1:19.483
4. Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:19.711
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:19.714
6. Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Renault 1:19.789
7. Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Renault 1:19.926
8. David Coulthard (GB) Red Bull-Renault 1:19.949
9. Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Toyota 1:19.969
10. Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:20.069
11. Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault 1:20.069
12. Alexander Wurz (Aut) Williams-Toyota 1:20.233
13. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota 1:20.270 *
14. Jenson Button (GB) Honda 1:20.336
15. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:20.462
16. Adrian Sutil (Ger) Spyker-Ferrari 1:20.736
17. Rubens Barrichello (Brz) Honda 1:20.889
18. Vitantonio Liuzzi (Ita) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:20.985
19. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:20.997
20. Anthony Davidson (GB) Super Aguri-Honda 1:21.007
22. Takuma Sato (Jpn) Super Aguri-Honda 1:21.352
First practice times:
1. Raikkonen 1:19.119
2. Massa 1:19.498
3. Alonso 1:19.667
4. Hamilton 1:19.897
5. Rosberg 1:20.058*
6. Kubica 1:20. 297
7. Wurz 1:20.411
8. Trulli 1:20.483
9. Sutil 1:20.516
10. Davidson 1:20.601
11. Barrichello 1:20.686
12. Kovalainen 1:20.718
13. Heidfeld 1:20.728
14. Liuzzi 1:20.808
15. Schumacher 1:20.828
16. Fisichella 1:20.851
17. Sato 1:21.188
18. Webber 1:21.437
19. Button 1:21.541
20. Vettel 1:21.854
21. Coulthard 1:22.436
22. Yamamoto 1:22.902
* = Rosberg to be penalised 10 grid places for engine change