The German trails runaway Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton by 50 points with just five races left this season and his Mercedes rival rubbed salt in Vettel's wounds by dominating Friday's free practice at Suzuka.
Although Vettel trails Hamilton by 50 points in the drivers' championship with just five races left this season, he denied that this Sunday presents his last chance to dent the Briton's lead and mount a realistic title challenge.
Mercedes were the quickest in the first two practice sessions with Valtteri Bottas also recording better lap times than Vettel.
Vettel managed to put 19 laps on the super-soft tyre in second practice at Suzuka, but his race pace did not appear to be as strong as Hamilton's.
And the British racer's time was again nearly half a second faster than teammate Bottas in second and over eight tenths faster than title rival Sebastian Vettel.
"This track is awesome", a giddy Hamilton said over the radio.
But Toto Wolff claims Ferrari was "holding something back" and he expects them to be much more competitive come lights out. "It has to be one of my favourite circuits, if not the favourite", Hamilton said.
"I think overall it's been OK". If we can grasp pole tomorrow, that's great, but if not we need to be there just right behind and see what happens.
"I think we can focus on our work and now we try to squeeze out everything that is left in the vehicle for tomorrow".
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The pair's relationship has dominated headlines in recent weeks after they were caught having a war of words on the training ground.
The race begins at 6.10am on Sunday, October 7 with build-up from 4.30am.
"In the morning they were quicker through nearly every corner but they had a softer tyre".
"But overall the vehicle felt pretty good throughout all sectors, I just had some balance issues, struggling a bit with understeer".
"Of course you would like to be always further with more performance, but that's the same for everyone".
Vettel, however, denied that Ferrari has consistently had the better auto, insisting the difference between them and Mercedes has been minimal.
"It has been a clean Friday", insisted Vettel, despite complaining of blistering tyres.
"We made progress with our cars, the steps that we planned, the steps have been coming".
"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".
"Today I think we were probably both of us sliding a bit too much, and therefore damaging the tyres a bit more than others", admitted Vettel.
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