Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Suzuka, 2023

Suzuka layout ‘punishes’ Mercedes’ weakness in high-speed corners

Formula 1

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Suzuka’s high-speed corners amplified a weakness of Mercedes’ car and left their drivers on the fourth row of the grid over a second behind pole-winner Max Verstappen.

Lewis Hamilton said he made strides with his car’s set-up after a difficult Friday but could not overcome the shortcoming of its lack of rear-end grip.

“Yesterday was a nightmare, not the kind of balance that you want on a track like this,” said Hamilton. “But we did some great work overnight, the car was feeling much nicer to drive today like it’s as good a balance as we could possibly get.

“It’s just massively down on rear downforce, so we can’t carry anywhere near the speeds as these guys are carrying through that first sector.”

Mercedes have found it consistently difficult to dial their car in from track to track this year. “We have a very peaky car,” said Hamilton.

“When we talk about knife-edge [handling], it’s literally like trying to balance a knife on its tip and this is that car, like it’s impossible. So it is never perfectly balanced, it’s one way or the other and you either oversteer or you massively understeer, you can never get it in the middle.

“You try and get it as close as you can to the middle. But it’s very, very hard to do each weekend, but once I do get into a decent place this is where I qualify.”

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The team’s performance deficit is especially severe in the first sector at Suzuka, which features a sequence of high-speed corners in quick succession. Hamilton lost over half a second to Verstappen in that sector alone.

Andrew Shovlin, the team’s head of trackside engineering, said those corners suit Mercedes less than the shorter, lower-speed corners at Marina Bay in Singapore, where the team raced last week and came within a tenth of a second of taking pole position.

“Fundamentally it just comes down to the corner speed range,” said Shovlin. “Singapore is predominantly those low-speed, 90-degree [corners] and over the course of the year we’ve added a fair bit of performance there.

“I think specifically, if you look at the Red Bull and the McLaren, and we saw it as early as Silverstone with McLaren, where they were super-strong around corners like Stowe and through the Maggotts-Becketts, at Silverstone they were actually the fastest in some of those. I think that’s the biggest part of the swing.

“We’ll see how it goes in the race tomorrow. But I think it is just this track, you need a lot of downforce in a certain ride height range and they’ve probably got more than us.”

In sector one “every corner sets you up for the next,” Shovlin explained. “So when you start running on a bit and it takes you longer to turn the car, all those losses compound themselves and you’ve got this tyre temperature effect.

“So it is a sector where you often get a one second difference, or used to in that sector just where people were struggling. It really does punish you. It’s not a massive surprise that a Red Bull with Max at the wheel is going so well.”

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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6 comments on “Suzuka layout ‘punishes’ Mercedes’ weakness in high-speed corners”

  1. Janis sang it best

    1. “So it is a sector where you often get a one second difference, or used to in that sector just where people were struggling. It really does punish you. It’s not a massive surprise that a Red Bull with Max at the wheel is going so well.”

      Some people are full of talent, some chase the other end of the scale.
      Shovlin seems to have situated on the talent end of the scale, I think you’re struggling, though.

  2. Am I right in thinking that the RB advantage is maintaining a consistent level of ground clearance at all times, resulting in a multitude of benefits, not least high speed corner stability?

    1. The latest thing I saw is that they have a narrower gearbox and that allows them to have wider tunnels that are an inverted V shape. But also, Adrian is famous for being an aero but he is a total engineer, his suspensions are brilliant too and his aero works with it, so the whole car is one philosophy. And McLaren got Rob Marshall this year and now look. Yes he’s on gardening leave supposedly but in reality he can communicate a concept can’t he.

      Meanwhile Mercedes gave their car to a 100% aero supernerd Mike Elliott who is mega clever but only that one dimensional and dreams tunnel numbers. James Allison is more like Adrian and whole car, so hopefully that’s going to make the difference next year.

    2. That’s the gist of Driver61’s latest video, pointing out how the RB suspension works to maintain constant ride height but maybe dampens feedback to the driver, which may affects Perez more (why, though, I’m not entirely clear).

      1. why, though, I’m not entirely clear

        Neither it would seem isPerez

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